The Scoop on Ergonomics Toothbrushes
The concept of ergonomics has resulted in a reinvention of the simple toothbrush — but can the new toothbrushes really make a difference?
The practice of brushing your teeth hasn’t changed much since 1938, the year that the modern toothbrush was introduced. But the toothbrush itself has evolved quite a bit. Stroll through the oral health aisle at your local drugstore and you may be surprised by the number of toothbrush styles available and the claims made by manufacturers about the effectiveness of their toothbrushes.
The key, toothbrush manufacturers say, is ergonomics — the science of improving the ease and efficiency with which people use products. So-called ergonomic toothbrushes sport specially designed handles or brush heads to help get teeth cleaner.
Whether manual or electric, these ergonomic toothbrush designs are marketed with the promise that their shape can help you perfect the proper brushing angle and feel more comfortable during the brushing process. Some are even said to brush teeth and massage gums simultaneously — and last much longer than run-of-the-mill toothbrushes.
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Do these promises hold up? According to dentist Catrise Austin, DDS, of VIP Smiles in New York City, the handles of ergonomic toothbrushes are often lighter and include grips to help people hold their brushes more easily. The heads serve different functions, too — the bristles on some models form a convex shape to help clean the lower front teeth. “They’re designed to make brushing easier, especially in the most difficult-to-clean areas of the mouth, like the lower front teeth or the upper back molars,” Dr. Austin explains.
Ergonomic vs. Regular Brushes
Despite the comfort factor, using an ergonomic toothbrush is not a guarantee of good oral health. Most adults won’t see major benefits from them as compared to ordinary toothbrushes. “If you know how to use a normal, regular toothbrush, the advantages won’t be extremely significant,” Austin says.
People who may benefit from an ergonomic toothbrush include children who have not yet developed the manual dexterity needed to brush properly and adults who have physical limitations, such as people who have had strokes or those with Parkinson’s disease. “They could also help people who are just not effective brushers, so they can get to areas they can’t easily reach,” says Austin.
What Really Keeps Teeth Clean
Often, Austin says, brushing practices can have more impact on oral health than the type of toothbrush a person uses. She recommends brushing three times a day, preferably after meals. “That will help keep plaque levels down and avoid cavity formation,” she says. You should also floss once a day. If brushing your teeth isn’t an option at certain times of the day, like after lunch, it’s also acceptable to chew sugar-free gum or rinse with a mouthwash as a temporary measure.
Austin also recommends brushing for at least two full minutes to be sure that you’ve thoroughly cleaned all of your teeth, but be careful — overly vigorous scrubbing can actually wear away enamel and cause tooth and gum sensitivity. To help counteract this, Austin suggests choosing a toothbrush with soft bristles rather than medium or hard ones.
No matter what type of toothbrush you use, it’s also important to replace it regularly — about every three to four months, but sooner if the bristles become worn. If you’re worried about keeping your toothbrush clean between uses may want to check into using a toothbrush sanitizer, which works by exposing the brush to ultraviolet light.