Choosing a Toothbrush: The Pros and Cons of Electric and Disposable

You can't overestimate the importance of good oral hygiene -- not only for dental health, but for your overall wellbeing. In fact, gum disease is a major risk factor for the development of serious health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

From the time we're young, we're taught that using a toothbrush regularly is one of the best ways to keep our teeth and gums healthy. But which toothbrush is best?

In the late 1930s, when toothbrushes with nylon bristles were first invented, consumers choosing a toothbrush didn't have many options. Now, the story's completely different when it comes to toothbrushes. Most stores that sell oral hygiene products now have an extensive collection of different types of toothbrushes on their shelves, including manual (disposable) and powered (electric) varieties.

Choosing a toothbrush: General tips

There are certain characteristics that you should look for in whatever toothbrush you choose, regardless of whether it is manual or powered.

Size. The best toothbrush head for you should allow you easy access to all surfaces of your teeth. For most adults, a toothbrush head a half-inch wide and one-inch tall will be the easiest to use and the most effective. Though there are larger toothbrush heads available, you may find that it is difficult to maneuver them to clean certain hard-to-reach areas, such as the sides and backs of your molars. The toothbrush should have a long enough handle so you can comfortably hold it in your hand.

Bristle variety. If you go to the drug store to purchase a manual toothbrush or a replacement head for your electric toothbrush, you will be able to select a toothbrush with soft, medium, or hard nylon bristles. For the vast majority of people, a soft-bristled toothbrush will be the most comfortable and safest choice. Depending on how vigorously you brush your teeth and the strength of your teeth, medium- and hard-bristled brushes could actually damage your protective tooth enamel. For even more tooth protection when you brush, be sure the bristles on the toothbrush you select have rounded tips.

Expert recommendation. To ensure your toothbrush has undergone rigorous quality control tests for cleaning effectiveness and safety, ask your dentist for a recommendation. Or look for manual or powered toothbrushes that have earned the American Dental Association Seal of Approval.

For disposable toothbrushes, this seal ensures that: the bristles will have safe tips; the bristles will not fall out of the toothbrush under typical brushing conditions; the handle will withstand normal use; and the toothbrush will effectively reduce plaque build-up and gum disease in its early stages.

In addition to satisfying these conditions, powered or electric toothbrushes bearing the seal also must undergo safety testing in an independent laboratory and prove through a clinical trial that the toothbrush is safe for use on the tissues of the mouth and teeth as well as any dental hardware that may be in place.

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