The ancient Chinese get credit for the first toothbrush, made of hog hair bristles attached to a bamboo handle. Today, there are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from (none with hog hair), all designed for one purpose—to remove plaque from the surface of your teeth, preventing tooth decay and gum disease and keeping your smile bright.

Most of us still use "manual" toothbrushes with nylon bristles and a plastic handle, but electric models, with brush heads that rotate several thousand times a minute, are increasing in popularity. Whichever type of toothbrush you prefer, remember to brush at least twice daily for two to three minutes.

How to choose a Toothbrush

The best toothbrush is one you'll use regularly. Here are some key features to consider as you make your choice:


Bristles can range from extra-soft to soft, medium, or firm. Softer is better: Rigorous brushing with firm bristles can damage your gums. If your gums are especially sensitive, use a toothbrush with extra-soft bristles.

Most manufacturers use polished nylon bristles, which can be rounded and softened. Natural bristle brushes are also available, though most dentists don't recommend them because they tend to retain more oral bacteria than synthetic bristle toothbrushes do.

Whether your toothbrush has two, three, or four rows of bristles, most now feature rippled bristle lengths for deep between-teeth cleaning. Longer outer bristles remove plaque along your gum line. Shorter inner bristles sweep away plaque and debris, and more rows make a more efficient toothbrush.

Some "smart" toothbrushes like Oral-B have blue indicator dye on their bristles. When the dye wears off, it's time to replace your toothbrush.

Head size

Your toothbrush head should fit into your mouth easily to reach your back teeth. Luckily, there's a head size for every mouth.

  • Children's toothbrushes are small enough to fit into a child's mouth. They also feature kid-friendly touches: Some glow in the dark or feature animated characters.
  • Compact brushes are built for teens and for women with small mouths.
  • Full brushes suit adults with average-size to large mouths.

Handle shape

Straight brushes are the norm, but other shapes promise better flexibility and reach:

  • A tapered shape can be easily maneuvered to reach your back molars.
  • Angled handles can improve your reach.

Electric toothbrushes

Electric brushes use small motors to rotate bristle heads thousands of times faster than humanly possible. The latest advance, the Sonicare toothbrush, uses a microprocessor to create a super high-speed bristle motion, which in turn creates sound waves that help dislodge plaque.

Whether electrics clean better than regular manual brushing is a subject of dispute. But consider the following:

  • An electric brush is a good choice for people who have poor manual dexterity.
  • Electrics can require new replacement heads and batteries every few months.
  • For effectiveness, the key is how long you brush, not how fast. If you use an electric brush, you'll still need to brush for two to three minutes twice a day.

How to use a Toothbrush

Some guidelines:

  • Brush at least twice a day, preferably after meals or snacks, for two or three minutes at a time, especially before you go to sleep.
  • Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, because old bristles don't clean as well.

The American Dental Association suggests these steps for home dental hygiene:

  • Place the head of the toothbrush against your teeth, with the bristle tips angled against the gumline at a 45-degree angle.
  • Moving the brush back and forth with a short (half a tooth wide) stroke in a gentle scrubbing motion. Brush the outer surfaces of each tooth, upper and lower, keeping the bristles angled against the gum line.
  • Using the same motion, brush the inside surfaces of your teeth.
  • Scrub chewing surfaces of all teeth, using a light pressure and letting the bristles reach into the grooves of your teeth.
  • To clean the inside of your front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several gentle up-and-down strokes with the "toe" (the front part) of the brush over the teeth and gum tissue of your upper and lower jaws.
  • Brush your tongue to freshen your breath.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by a licensed physician. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication.

Personal Hygiene