The toothbrush has come a long way. As the American Dental Association (ADA) notes, the earliest toothbrushes were actually small twigs people rubbed against their teeth to get rid of food bits and other pieces of debris. Over hundreds of years it evolved, beginning to feature bristles made from boar's hair. Finally, in the 1930s, DuPont de Nemours introduced toothbrushes made with nylon bristles, which people still use today.
Nowadays, though, there are plenty of additional choices when it comes to your toothbrush. You can use a hard toothbrush, a soft toothbrush, an electric-powered brush or a battery-powered brush.
Toothbrush Bristle Types
When it comes to bristles, you can usually find extra soft, soft and medium options. A hard toothbrush, also called a firm-bristled brush, is increasingly difficult to find. In fact, not even tongue and soft-tissue cleaners are available with firm or hard bristles. The type of bristles that are right for you depends on your specific oral care needs and any issues you might be suffering from at the time.
As a general rule, however, dentists recommend choosing a toothbrush with soft bristles, instead of one considered hard or even medium. If you have sensitive teeth and signs of enamel erosion, your dentist might even suggest a brush with extra-soft bristles.
What Hard Bristles Do
Brushing your teeth incorrectly can have a negative effect in more ways than one, depending on the type of bristles and on how much force a person uses. Research by Monographs in Oral Science recently studied variety of factors that can do more harm than good to a person's teeth and gums when brushing. How often you brush, the pressure you put on your teeth each time, the hardness of the brush's bristles and the quality of toothpaste you use can all have side effects in the process of cleaning plaque and bacteria away.
Another study published in 2015 by the Journal of Clinical Periodontology took a look at what happens to the gums when people brush their teeth. The goal of the study was to see the effect "traumatic tooth brushing" had on the development of gum recession and lesions on the gums. A number of factors influenced whether the subjects in the study were likely to have wear and tear on their gum: how they brushed, how often they brushed and how forgiving their toothbrush's bristles were.
Picking Your Toothbrush
Is there ever a reason to choose a hard toothbrush? Certainly not in your oral care. Although some people claim to prefer using firm bristles, the fact that they are more likely to wear away your teeth's enamel and your gums means they are generally not the best option. The well-known benefit of harder bristles – that they remove slightly more plaque than soft-bristled brushes – is usually not enough to justify their use.
Of course, if you think a hard toothbrush is better suited for you, or that it will help improve your oral health, the best thing to do is talk to your dentist about your options. It might be that switching from a manual powered brush to an electric toothbrush gives you that extra oomph you need to really clean your teeth when brushing, without the risk of destroying your enamel or gums.