Is my Toothbrush Supposed to Look Like That?


Have you seen your toothbrush look like the one on the right?

I have heard "I have to wear my toothbrush down." "The bristles of my toothbrush look worn down. Can I get a new one?" "I use a medium (or firm) toothbrush and wear them down."

With proper brushing techniques and pressure, your toothbrush should never look like the one on the right. The bristles should look exactly the same as how they started. A soft or extra soft toothbrush should always be used. There are medium and firm bristle toothbrushes still out in the market. Save those for your bathroom grout or cleaning your shoes as those are way too hard on the teeth and gums. 

People used to clean their teeth simply by chewing on twigs. Some countries like Pakistan and India still have sticks you chew to clean your teeth called neem sticks. A brush was eventually created made of bone and boar hair. The bristles were eventually changed to horse hair then finally to the nylon bristles we use today. The electric toothbrush was created and it has made brushing a faster, easier experience. Now, it only takes 2 minutes to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush. 

Many of us think 2 minutes with a manual tooth is enough time. In school, we learned the updated time is 4-5 minutes with a manual toothbrush. I know for myself 5 minutes is a very long time to be brushing! Call me lazy or impatient, but I would rather use my electric toothbrush that times me and notifies me when to change positions. The electric toothbrush has revolutionized the way we clean our teeth. There are models that have many bells and whistles like bluetooth compatibility, various programs and different pulsations. Would you rather hand wax a car or use an electric waxer? Another point is that our hand doesn't move as fast or consistently as a machine.

However, in observing patients I realized that not all of us require an electric toothbrush. I note how clean the teeth look and sometimes will tell patients that using their manual toothbrush is sufficient. However, in general, most likely due to our modern diet of processed foods and refined sugars, an electric toothbrush is a great addition to our daily routine.

I equate brushing our teeth to waxing a car or polishing something. Another great analogy my patient gave me was like using a sander or sandpaper. Both in manual and electric toothbrushes, the more pressure you apply, the less effective it is. The tips of the bristles are meant to clean. This means that they must be standing upright in order to move freely. If the bristles are flexing, the sides of the bristles are attempting to clean. This actually requires more work and time. Additionally, the flicking action created by heavy pressure causes damage to the teeth, gums and dental work. Heavy pressure with the electric toothbrush can shorten the lifetime of the device and stifle the movement of the bristles. Please take it easy on your teeth and gums. They want to stay around for as long as you need to chew and eat.

The best way to see if there is too much pressure being applied is observing the bristles. Do they look twisted and worn down? If so, replace and start again. For electric toothbrushes, turn it on and place it on the teeth. Lift and press and you will see that when ZERO pressure is applied, the bristles are allowed to move freely. I tell patients to hold the toothbrush (manual or electric) with 3 fingers for 3 days. This creates a new habit and snaps our mind out of the scrub and grind that happens when we grip our toothbrush with the entire hand. 

Now you know how much pressure to apply. Replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head every 3 months. A lot of toothbrushes out on the market have indicator bristles (generally blue in color) that will reduce in color halfway notifiying you that it's time to replace. See the recommended products for electric toothbrushes I recommend.