A Look at Toothbrushes

Toothbrush design and materials have come a long way. Early forms of the toothbrush have existed for nearly 5000 years. Some ancient civilizations removed food with a "chew stick," a thin twig with a frayed end that was rubbed against the teeth. During the last century or so, toothbrushes were crafted with bone, wood or ivory handles that held the stiff bristles of hogs, boars or other animals. The nylon-bristled toothbrush, as we know it today, was invented in 1938.

There are two types of toothbrushes: manual and powered. The size and shape of the brush should fit your mouth comfortably, allowing you to reach all areas easily. Your dentist may offer suggestions about which type is suitable for your needs. No matter what type of toothbrush you choose, the American Dental Association recommends that you brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste to clean your teeth thoroughly and to provide fluoride protection against decay.

Both manual and powered toothbrushes can effectively and thoroughly clean teeth. People who have difficulty using a manual toothbrush may find a powered toothbrush easier or more comfortable to use. Children may find that brushing with a powered toothbrush is fun. Whether you decide on manual or powered, choose a toothbrush that you like and find easy to use so that you’ll use it twice a day to thoroughly clean all of your tooth surfaces.

Rinse your toothbrush with tap water after brushing to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. Store the brush in an upright position if possible and allow it to air dry until using it again. If more than one toothbrush is stored in the same holder or area, keep the brushes separated.

Do not routinely cover toothbrushes or store them in closed containers. A moist environment, such as a closed container, is more conducive to the growth of microorganisms than is the open air.

Replace toothbrushes every three to four months. The bristles become frayed and worn with use and will be less effective at cleaning teeth. Toothbrushes wear more rapidly depending on factors unique to each patient. Check toothbrushes often for worn bristles and replace them more frequently if needed. Children’s toothbrushes may need to be replaced more frequently than adults’ toothbrushes.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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  • Fluoride rinses – these rinses coat the teeth with fluoride to strengthen teeth to prevent tooth decay and cavities. They also freshen breath.