What Types of Toothbrush Bristles are Best For My Teeth?

When it comes to choosing a toothbrush, it’s sometimes hard to separate medical fact from marketing hype. Every commercial claims that “X out of Y dentists choose this product over others.” When everyone’s claiming that 9/10 or 4/5 dentists prefer their product over others, it’s pretty clear that their surveys probably have some statistical biases and sampling problems. It’s foolish to put too much trust in advertising, as it’s all too easy to bend and twist statistics to fit your desired narrative. It’s not that these commercials are lying, they’re just not telling you the whole story.

What Types of Toothbrush Bristles are Best For My Teeth?

If you ask an actual dentist, they’ll probably tell you that what’s really important isn’t the fanciest toothbrush, but that you diligently brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. However, different brushes feature different bristles, and dentists generally recommend softer bristles over stiffer bristles.

Comfort and Effectiveness are Both Important

A good toothbrush is both easy to use, and effective at cleaning your teeth. The vast majority of available toothbrushes on the market today fit these requirements. It’s also important to replace your toothbrush on a regular basis. They wear out relatively quickly, and old, bent, and worn-down bristles aren’t as effective as cleaner, newer ones. This is why inexpensive toothbrushes are generally sold in multipacks, and why companies sell replacement heads for electric toothbrushes. 

Bristles Can Be Hard, Soft, or Medium

Different toothbrushes can feature harder or softer bristles or a combination of bristle types. A “soft” bristle is generally defined as having a thickness of around 0.15 mm, while “hard” bristles are closer to 0.23 mm. Soft bristles are pretty universally effective, and they’re the best choice for people with sensitive gums, or who have recently undergone oral surgery. They’re less likely to accidentally damage your gums or cause bleeding, but they’re still effective at removing tartar and plaque.

However, some people prefer stiffer bristles, which remove plaque more vigorously. In clinical studies, stiff bristles have been shown to remove more plaque, but at the same time ,they’re more likely to cause gingival lesions. However, the difference in plaque removal isn’t considered statistically significant, so hard toothbrushes may hurt more than they help.

Toothbrush Bristles Come in Different Sizes & Shapes

Toothbrush bristles also come in different shapes. Some have a cupped shape for cleaning around teeth, or a diagonal pattern that helps clean the sides of the teeth and areas near the gumline. They’re also available in different sizes, including small brushes for children. Bristles with end-rounding are best. According to one study, Crest Complete toothbrushes consistently performed well in tests of satisfactory end-rounding.

Choosing the Right Toothbrush for Your Needs

Almost any toothbrush from a major manufacturer is going to meet your oral health needs just fine, although the softest brushes are ideal if you have sensitive gums that bleed easily. For best results, choose a brush that has the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Approval. Companies earn this seal by providing substantial evidence that the brush is both safe and effective. You can find more details about their requirements here.

Both manual and electric toothbrushes can clean your teeth effectively, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Children may find electric toothbrushes more fun, increasing their motivation to brush correctly and regularly. For people with disabilities that make it difficult to use a manual toothbrush effectively, electric toothbrushes can also be a good choice. For anyone else, what matters is that the brush is easy to use and that it’s ADA-approved, not whether it’s powered or manual. 

Everyone’s mouth is different, and you may eventually find a product that works particularly well for you. 

Here is a comprehensive list of ADA-approved toothbrushes. It’s probably the best guide for which products you should or shouldn’t use.

Cleaning and Replacing Toothbrushes

Bacteria can persist on your toothbrush, so it’s important to keep it clean. Thoroughly rinse it with tap water after use, to remove any remaining debris. It should be stored upright and allowed to air dry before you use it again.

Every three to four months, you should replace your toothbrush, or the disposable component of an electric toothbrush. Over time, the bristles become frayed and worn, and they lose their effectiveness for removing plaque. 

Brushing Regularly and Consistently is What’s Important

What’s really important is that you brush regularly and consistently. You can see in the linked list to the ADA documents that there are plenty of products that have provided satisfactory evidence that they’re safe and effective for removing plaque. It’s important to pick a brush that you’re comfortable with, and then use it twice a day for at least 60-120 seconds. The fact that you brush at all makes a bigger difference in your oral health than which toothbrush you use.

Related Articles