Let’s talk toothbrushes

March 14th, 2022

A photograph of multicolored toothbrushesThe toothbrush is the most basic tool for maintaining healthy teeth, but many people give their toothbrush little thought and don’t know when to swap it out for a new one. Plus, they need to choose the type of brush to use: manual or electric, hard-bristled or soft.

Often, people latch on to one favorite toothbrush and use it until it’s completely worn out. How often should a toothbrush be replaced?

“The American Dental Association recommends that toothbrushes need to be replaced every three months,” says Jane Cotter, assistant professor in the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. “Toothbrushes used longer than three months can become frayed and may damage the gingiva (gums).”

Cotter says the three-month timeline applies to both manual and electric toothbrush heads, but sometimes brushes have to be replaced earlier.

“If the bristles of the toothbrush are fraying or are spreading out, then the brush needs to be replaced,” she says. “Some toothbrushes have bristles that change color over time to help patients know when they need replacing.”

According to Cotter, toothbrushes and toothbrush heads also should be replaced if someone has been sick. Viruses, including cold, flu and the coronavirus, thrive in a moist environment and can spread through physical contact. While sick, socially distance your toothbrush. Don’t share a common toothbrush holder.

“It is important to store your toothbrush in a vertical/upright position in the open air so that it will dry out between uses,” Cotter says. “This helps control bacterial and fungal growth on the bristles.”

So, what’s the best toothbrush to use?

“Research has consistently shown that electric toothbrushes clean better than manual toothbrushes,” Cotter says. “Most electric toothbrushes have a two-minute timer that beeps or pulses every 30 seconds to alert the user to move to a different quadrant or area of the mouth. Some of the new toothbrushes also have an app that will show the user where they are missing when brushing.”

Some individuals prefer a hard-bristled toothbrush to clean teeth, but dental professionals don’t typically recommend them. Firm or hard toothbrushes can actually damage the tooth enamel, Cotter says, so it is better to go with a soft bristle toothbrush.

Understanding the right toothbrush to use and proper toothbrush maintenance will keep those pearly whites healthy.

— LaDawn Brock