A beginner's guide to toothbrush technology

Toothbrush technology has come a long way from the days of brushing with hog's hairs attached to a bone handle. But while home dental equipment has never been better, our teeth are in greater peril than ever before thanks to our high-sugar diets. The following guidelines will tell you how to properly take care of your pearly whites.

A beginner's guide to toothbrush technology

1. Electric vs. manual toothbrushes

Unless you're utterly devoted to proper brushing, do your teeth a favour and trade in your manual toothbrush. It's the rare person who faithfully brushes his or her pearly whites for a full two minutes at least twice a day, paying equal attention to the fronts, backs and chewing surfaces of all those choppers. If you're that person, a regular toothbrush is probably all you need to keep your teeth sparkling and plaque-free. But surveys show that half of us brush just once a day, and most of us devote just 46 seconds to the task.

Electric toothbrushes can help by removing more plaque. A definitive review of 42 well-designed studies involving nearly 4,000 women and men found that an electric toothbrush with bristles that rotate in alternating directions removed 11 percent more plaque and reduced gum disease six percent more than manual brushes after one to three months of use. After three months, electric toothbrush users had 17 percent less gum disease.

Worried that a buzzing, whirring power brush will nick or irritate your gums? Don't be. The researchers found that manual and electric types didn't harm gums.

2. Can I skip flossing if I use mouthwash?

No. Mouthwash helps, but only floss can remove hard-to-reach debris that threatens your teeth and gums. "Swish instead of flossing!" was the surprising message that emerged just a few years ago from two studies that compared twice-daily rinses with a popular antiseptic mouthwash to once-a-day flossing. Sponsored by a mouthwash manufacturer, these small studies found that their product worked better than traditional flossing. The result: TV ads proclaiming that mouthwash beat out floss at preventing gum disease.

But don't toss that floss. A later study found that a dental-care routine featuring brushing, flossing and rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash cut plaque by 50 percent — better than flossing or mouthwash alone. Another reason to keep on flossing at least once a day: it's the only way to dislodge that strand of spinach that got lodged behind your right bicuspid at lunch.

Atherosclerosis

When scientists at Columbia University Medical Center measured the bacteria levels in the mouths of 657 people, they found high bacterial counts were directly related to the thickness of the carotids, major arteries in the neck. Thickened carotids raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

How to treat your toothbrush

A toothbrush's wet bristles can be a breeding ground for bacteria. These steps can keep brush bugs in check.

  • Rinse in cool water, then store your brush in an upright position after each use so the water drains away from the bristles. Don't store a wet toothbrush in a closed case.
  • Don't let the bristles of family members' brushes touch.
  • After a bout with a cold, the flu, a sore throat or mouth sores, it's best to simply replace your toothbrush or the brush head of your electric toothbrush.
  • Still worried about germs? Consider dunking your brush in antimicrobial mouthwash. Studies show a 20-minute soak can eliminate germs. Don't reuse the disinfection liquid or soak more than one brush in it.
  • Replace all toothbrushes every three to four months.
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