Look for the ADA Seal—your assurance that the product has been objectively evaluated for safety and effectiveness by an independent body of scientific experts, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs.
Toothbrush design and materials have come a long way. Early forms of the toothbrush have existed for nearly 5000 years. Ancient civilizations used a "chew stick," a thin twig with a frayed end. The sticks were rubbed against the teeth to remove food. In the past 500 or so years, 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. For more intriguing details about the history of toothbrushes, see Library of Congress.
Toothbrushing plays an important everyday role for personal oral hygiene. Brushing helps remove food and plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that can irritate the gums. Plaque that is not removed can harden into tartar. Brushing is more difficult when tartar collects above the gum line. As a result, the irritated gum tissue may swell or bleed. This is called gingivitis, the early stage of periodontal (gum) disease.
What kind of toothbrush should I buy?
There are basically two types of toothbrushes: manual and powered. The ADA recommends that you buy the one that you will use and one that displays the ADA Seal of Acceptance. A company earns the ADA Seal for its product by producing scientific evidence that the product is safe and effective. The ADA Council on Scientific Affairs carefully evaluates the evidence according to objective guidelines for toothbrushes (PDF). To qualify for the Seal of Acceptance, the company must show that:
- All of the toothbrush components are safe for use in the mouth
- Bristles are free of sharp or jagged edges and endpoints
- The handle material is manufacturer-tested to show durability under normal use
- The bristles won’t fall out with normal use
- The toothbrush can be used without supervision by the average adult to provide a significant decrease in mild gum disease and plaque
In addition to the above, powered toothbrushes must meet the requirements of a safety laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. The manufacturers of powered toothbrushes must also provide evidence from at least one clinical investigation (research using human volunteers) to show the product is safe for both soft and hard oral tissues and dental restorations.
The size and shape of the brush should fit your mouth comfortably, allowing you to reach all areas easily.
Is a powered toothbrush better than a manual?
Both manual and powered toothbrushes can effectively and thoroughly clean your teeth. Children may find that brushing with a powered toothbrush is fun. Persons who have difficulty using a manual toothbrush may find a powered toothbrush easier to use or more comfortable. 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 the surfaces of your teeth.
Why look for toothbrush brands that display the ADA Seal?
The Seal assures you that the product has been evaluated by an independent body of scientific experts, the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs, for safety and effectiveness according to objective guidelines. Look for the ADA box statement on the product label. It tells you what claims the ADA has reviewed and accepted. Products with the prestigious ADA Seal must say what they do and do what they say.
When’s the best time to brush?
The ADA recommends brushing twice a day and cleaning between teeth with floss or another interdental cleaner once a day. Some patients prefer to floss in the evening before bedtime so that the mouth is clean while sleeping. Ask your dentist if you would benefit from more frequent toothbrushing.
Should I brush or floss first?
The sequence makes no difference as long as you do a thorough job of removing plaque (a film of bacteria that forms on teeth). One way to tell if you’ve done a thorough job is by using plaque disclosing tablets or solutions. They are available in the dental product aisle at pharmacies and other stores. The tablet is chewed after brushing and releases a harmless dye that mixes with saliva over the teeth and gums. The red dye will color plaque that was not removed when you cleaned your teeth. After you rinse your mouth with water, check your teeth to identify pink-stained areas (unremoved plaque). A small dental mirror may help.
How can I keep my toothbrush clean?
Thoroughly rinse toothbrushes with tap water after brushing to remove any remaining toothpaste and debris. Store the brush in an upright position if possible and allow the toothbrush to air-dry until used again. If more than one brush is stored in the same holder or area, keep the brushes separated to prevent cross-contamination.
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 the open air.
Replace toothbrushes every 3–4 months. The bristles become frayed and worn with use and cleaning effectiveness will decrease. Toothbrushes will wear out more rapidly depending on factors unique to each patient. Check brushes often for this type of wear and replace them more frequently if needed. Children’s toothbrushes often need to be replaced more frequently than adult brushes.
For more information on caring for your toothbrush, see:
What products have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance?
- Statement on Toothbrush Care: Cleaning, Storage and Replacement
- Toothbrush care, cleaning and replacement (PDF)
- Cavity Prevention Tips From the American Dental Association (PDF)
- Cleaning Your Teeth & Gums
- How to brush (PDF)
- What you should know about bad breath (PDF)