By Emma Haak
You use it every day, but when was the last time you put real thought into your toothbrush? An effective tool is essential for a proper brushing, which not only shines up your pearly whites, but also prevents bacteria and inflammation -- both of which are linked to everything from heart disease to dementia. We asked the experts for a brushup on what features matter most.
Should you opt for an electric brush with a round, rotating head or a traditional rectangular manual brush? Many dentists believe they're both effective if you're using the right technique, but a review by the healthcare nonprofit the Cochrane Collaboration found that over a three-month period, round, rotating heads (which resemble the type used during professional cleanings) removed 11 percent more plaque than manual brushes. If you go the manual route, dentist Kimberly Harms, DDS, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, recommends that people with narrow jaws (your dentist can tell you) choose a brush with a tapered head.
There's no one-size-fits-all toothbrush, but keep in mind that big brushes can miss plaque buildup in tight spots between teeth and hard-to-reach areas in the back. "You'll know you've found the right size head if it can comfortably clean all the way around your last top molar," says Fremont, California–based dentist Ruchi Sahota, DDS.
Always opt for soft or extra soft. "Many people mistakenly believe that hard-bristle brushes do a more thorough job, but the opposite is true," says Harms. "Because hard bristles don't bend well, they can miss areas under the gums and between teeth that are most in need of cleaning." And they're harder on your gums: A 2011 study in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who brushed with stiffer bristles experienced an 11 percent increase in gum bleeding after eight weeks.
Unless you find them easier to hold, fancy padded grips that appear to be ergonomically designed have no effect on how well you brush, Harms says.
Is it Time to Change Your Toothbrush?
If it's been more than four months, yes.
According to the American Dental Association, more than 40 percent of Americans don't know how often to change their toothbrushes. GoodMouth, a new mail-order subscription service, eliminates the guesswork. "Many people use the same brush for six months or even a year," says dentist Seth Keiles, DMD, the company's cofounder and chief medical officer. "In that time, worn bristles become less effective at removing plaque, food particles, and bacteria, putting you at increased risk for cavities and gum disease." GoodMouth will send you a new brush every other month for a $5 delivery fee. And for every person who signs up, the company will donate two toothbrushes to underserved communities in the U.S. that lack access to quality dental care.