Have you ever given much thought to your toothbrush? You know the basics that work well for you: comfortable handle, soft bristles and a head that holds just the right amount of toothpaste. Some folks prefer the standard plastic handle with nylon bristles, while others have adopted a sonic toothbrush. But is a silicone toothbrush worth a try? And how does a silicone brush fare in the fight against gingivitis?
The History of Bristles
The modern-day toothbrush came into existence around 1938 when nylon was first used to make bristles, according to the Library of Congress. The softer nylon replaced the wiry boar's hair bristles that had been used in toothbrushes since the 1400s.
Nylon bristles are a better choice over natural hair for a number of reasons, notes the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Science Invention. Nylon bristles are up to 10 times more flexible than natural hair bristles. They are less likely to break off and easier to clean. The configuration and hardness level of a nylon toothbrush are easier to standardize as well, allowing them to be reproduced consistently and in bulk.
A silicone toothbrush replaces the nylon with silicone, or synthetic rubber, bristles. These bristles are similar in size to what you might see on an ordinary toothbrush. They work in a similar way as a gum stimulator to clean between teeth while removing plaque from along the gumline. Many silicone toothbrushes also have a silicone handle. Both manual and electric varieties are on the market.
One potential benefit of a silicone toothbrush is its ability to gently but thoroughly clean the gums. With regular brushing, this could offer extra protection against gingivitis. If you don't brush and floss regularly, your mouth becomes a haven for the sticky bacterial film known as plaque. Plaque that isn't removed from teeth hardens into tartar under the gumline. Plaque and tartar that remain on the teeth inflame the gingiva, the portion of the gum that surrounds a tooth's base. Inflamed gums swell, bleed easily and can lead to full-blown periodontal disease.
A study in the International Journal of Clinical Preventive Dentistry (IJCPD) details the effects of treating gingivitis using a rubber-tipped toothbrush. The study concludes that a rubber-tipped toothbrush is as effective at mitigating gingivitis and removing dental plaque as a toothbrush with nylon bristles.
While the IJCPD study is promising, it is only one example of the positive effects of silicone toothbrushes. More clinical studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of these toothbrushes over manual or electric toothbrushes.
Brushing Baby Teeth
Silicone toothbrushes are already popular for babies and children. Getting an early start on oral care is a good way to establish lifelong brushing habits. Once a baby's teeth start to erupt, your dentist will likely recommend using a baby toothbrush. (Before a baby's first tooth, you should be cleaning their gums and tongue with a clean, damp gauze square or a finger brush after every feeding.)
You might also consider a silicone toothbrush to help your baby cope with teething. There are several models that are easy to hold and even easier for your little one to chew on. The silicone bristles wipe the gums clean while also massaging them as the baby chews. This massaging action helps relieve teething discomfort.
No matter what type of brush you prefer — standard, electric or a silicone toothbrush — what's most important is that you are brushing twice daily as recommended by your dental professional. Ask your dentist or dental hygienist about the best kind of toothbrush and toothpaste for your oral health needs.