Toothbrush – History, Types, Methods, and Hygiene

Oral health has a significant effect on our overall well-being. The primary way to achieve squeaky clean teeth is by brushing your teeth with a toothbrush. A toothbrush is a dental tool which is used to clean the teeth and gums by removing plaque that usually forms after eating. There are a variety of toothbrushes available in the market today.

However, the basic model of a toothbrush consists of a head with nylon bristles, which is supported by a handle. Selection of a toothbrush is crucial to fulfilling your oral health requirements. Depending on a person’s need, a toothbrush can range from manual, electric to disposable toothbrushes. Following the proper tooth brushing technique is also crucial to maintain good oral hygiene.


While toothbrush may be an essential oral health aid in cleaning your teeth, it is necessary to ensure the cleanliness of the toothbrush as well. Proper cleaning and storage of the toothbrush will help to eliminate cross-contamination. Moreover, it will make your pearly whites last longer. Today’s article will highlight all the critical details that you should know about a toothbrush.

What is a toothbrush?

toothbrush for braces

A toothbrush is typically an oral hygiene tool which is designed to clean the teeth, gums, and tongue. Usually, it consists of a head with tightly clustered bristles. The head with bristles is mounted on a handle which facilitates proper cleaning of the mouth.

Basic models of toothbrush differ in the texture of the bristles, for example – soft, medium, and hard bristles. Additionally, the size and form of the head may also vary in different designs of a toothbrush. As a dentist, I always recommend a small head toothbrush with soft bristles as they are gentle towards the tooth surface and do not irritate the gums as well.

History of Toothbrush

In the early days, tree twigs, toothpicks, and chew sticks were used as a cleaning aid for the teeth. The first-ever kind of toothbrush was invented by using hog bristles attached to a handle made from bamboo or bone. In the 17th century, this model was redefined by using horse or boar bristles to make the bristles softer and more efficient.

With the gradual evolvement in the manufacturing industry, celluloid replaced bamboo and bone handles. Moreover, synthetic fibers like nylon replaced horse and boar hair. The first nylon toothbrush was invented in the 1930s.

In 1954, the first electric toothbrush was invented under the name Broxodent in Switzerland. After this invention, a wide range of toothbrushes based on the concept of synthetic manual and electronic properties have become popular worldwide. Moreover, the toothbrush has become one of the primary oral health care need for people all over the world.

What is the importance of toothbrush?

Generally, when we eat food containing sugar and starch, the sticky substance forms a layer of plaque on the tooth surface. Plaque often serves as a host for bacteria which ferment the sugars and produce acids that damage the teeth. Toothbrush effectively helps to remove the plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface and under the gum line.

Moreover, it also helps to clean the tongue and maintain a healthy mouth. To have good oral hygiene, it is essential to brush at least two times a day. Each tooth brushing session should last for two minutes. Additionally, it is crucial to replace your toothbrush in every 3-4 months or whenever the bristles start to worn out.

What are the different types of toothbrush?

A toothbrush is one of the most essential and popular oral health aids in today’s world. This is one of the reasons why every manufacturing company is working on designing toothbrush that is effective and easy to use. Typically, a toothbrush can be categorized into three following types –

Manual toothbrush

Manual toothbrushes are the traditional toothbrushes which require gentle movements of the hand to move the brush inside the mouth. These toothbrushes have been around for a very long time. Manual toothbrushes are also one of the most used types of toothbrush all over the world. (1) Some of the benefits of manual toothbrush include –

  • Accessibility – as mentioned above, manual toothbrushes are one of the most used types of a toothbrush. Therefore, it is readily available at any grocery store, gas station, dollar store, or even a pharmacy.
  • Ease of use – manual toothbrushes does not require power to function. This makes the toothbrushes easy to use anywhere at any time.
  • Economical – manual toothbrushes are highly cost-effective and may range around $1-$5
  • Plenty of designs – many people like to have a fancy toothbrush to motivate them every morning. Children get attracted to a toothbrush that has their favorite cartoon design on it. Manual toothbrushes also come in different sizes to fit each type of mouth.
  • A great educational tool to teach kids a proper way of brushing their teeth.

It is essential to note that while using a manual toothbrush, you should always use gentle strokes to prevent accidental tooth damage or gum irritation.

Electric toothbrush

Electric toothbrushes are the new advanced designs in which the toothbrush is either charged or battery operated. The toothbrush bristles on activation vibrate and rotate to remove the plaque and bacteria from the tooth surface. (2) Vibrations produced by these toothbrushes allow micro-movement of the bristles which effectively cleans every area of the mouth. Benefits of electric toothbrush include –

  • Effective plaque removal – studies have shown that electric toothbrush removes 21% more plaque as compared to any other toothbrush when used for three months. Moreover, it reduces gum disease and inflammation. (3)
  • Ease of use – since the power-driven toothbrush gets activated on a click of a button, it does not require any hand movement. Such a device is excellent for people with arthritis, developmental disabilities, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Unique features – most of the electric toothbrushes consists of built-in timers that allow proper toothbrushing for a full two minutes. Moreover, the device is waterproof and comes in a lot of printed designs that are fun and attractive for kids.
  • Unlike a manual toothbrush, electric toothbrushes only require the replacement of toothbrush head.
  • Electric toothbrushes are an excellent tool for maintaining good oral hygiene in orthodontic patients.

With all the advantages listed above, it is proven that electric toothbrushes are one of the best buys. However, these toothbrushes are a little expensive as compared to the manual toothbrush. Typically, electric toothbrush cost around $15 – $250 and above per brush.

Additionally, the replacement heads may range between $10 – $45. Often finding the right replacement head size may be challenging as not all stores carry them. One of the common drawbacks of plug-in versions of an electric toothbrush is that its non-portable especially if you are traveling internationally.

Disposable toothbrush

Disposable toothbrushes are for one-time use only. These toothbrushes are compact and inexpensive as compared to any other type of toothbrush. These types of brushes are mainly used for single-day travels, for example, a business trip or one-way trips. Usually, disposable toothbrush consists of a mini-toothbrush and toothpaste combo. However, recent designs include a disposable toothbrush with its bristles preloaded with waterless toothpaste.

This variety of disposable toothbrush gets activated when it comes in contact with the saliva. The compact size of the toothbrush makes it easier to carry in hand luggage or your handbag. You can use it easily anywhere. Disposable toothbrush and toothpaste do not require water to make it foamy. They are specifically designed to add beneficial value to your oral health while traveling. Other uses of the disposable toothbrush may include –

  • Overnight stays like sleepovers
  • Instant breath freshener during long days in office or school
  • Business lunch followed by a presentation meeting and discussions
  • For orthodontic patients to clean their teeth after a meal when they are out for lunch

Orthodontic toothbrush

An orthodontic toothbrush is specifically designed to ease the process of plaque removal for patients with braces. These type of toothbrushes come in a  unique V-shaped head and bristle arrangement which easily fits into the back areas of the mouth. Additionally, it consists of two rows of bristles. The inner row is designed to clean around the wire and bracket. The soft outer bristles remove plaque from the gum line and tooth surface.

Other varieties of orthodontic toothbrush consist of a small conical proxy brush at the opposite end which efficiently fits around the brackets and between the tooth and wire. Regular toothbrushes can be used effectively to clean the plaque and bacteria around the braces. However, it is better to add beneficial tools like interdental brush and floss to clean efficiently.

The interdental brush is similar to a proxy brush which consists of a cylindrical or conically shaped head with 360-degree bristle coverage. These brushes easily fit in the interdental areas, between the wire and tooth surface and around the bracket. Some varieties of interdental brush consist of a flexible pointed end on the opposite side which removes food particles and debris that get stuck between the teeth and wire.

What are the criteria for selecting the best toothbrush?

While choosing the best type of toothbrush, it is essential to keep in mind the following factors –

Size of the toothbrush

There are several sizes of toothbrush head available in the market to suit the needs of different people. It is essential to always look for a toothbrush head size, which can easily fit in your mouth. Moreover, the toothbrush head should be able to access all the surfaces of your teeth. (4)

Most people use a half-inch wide and one-inch tall toothbrush head. This is the optimum size, which is easy to use and most effective in cleaning the teeth and gums properly. Large-sized heads may cover multiple tooth surface, but they are challenging to maneuver in the mouth; especially the sides and back of the molar teeth.

Type of bristle

Typically, toothbrush bristles come in a range of very soft, soft, medium and hard. Toothbrush bristles are usually made from nylon. The choice of bristle also depends upon the strength of your teeth and how vigorously you brush your teeth. Often medium and a hard-bristled toothbrush can damage the tooth surface, irritate the gums and erode the enamel layer. (5)

The best type of toothbrush should always contain soft bristles as they are gentle, comfortable, and safe to the teeth hand gums. Also, ensure that the bristles have round tips for extra protection towards tooth surface.

Design of the toothbrush

A long handle of the toothbrush makes brushing comfortable by providing a firm grip to hold it in your hand. In addition to this, the flexible neck of the toothbrush equally contributes to effective tooth brushing.

Expert recommendations

It is essential to have some form of surety that the toothbrush you are choosing is effective and safe to use. You can talk to your dentist about it and ask him to recommend the best types of toothbrush suitable for your oral health condition.

Additionally, you can look for manual or electric toothbrushes that have an American Dental Association seal of acceptance (ADA seal). This seal ensures that the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the toothbrush be it disposable, manual, or power-driven. Some of the quality checks that come under ADA include –

  • Safe tips of bristles
  • Strength of bristles
  • Quality of the handle
  • The efficiency of the toothbrush
  • Reduction of plaque and gum disease

What is a proper tooth brushing technique?

Gentle tooth brushing is always preferred over scrubbing of teeth with the toothbrush. Proper tooth brushing takes a minimum of two to three minutes. Ideally, you should brush in the following way –

  • Take a soft-bristled toothbrush and place and load it with a small amount of toothpaste.
  • Place the head of the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle at the junction of the tooth and gum line. (6)
  • Use gentle circular strokes to clean the tooth surface. Repeat this process for every tooth surface.
  • Keep in mind to never scrub the teeth in a horizontal motion.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after brushing.
  • Brush at least two times in a day – once I nth morning before breakfast and once in the night before you sleep.

What is the importance of cleaning your toothbrush?

How to sanitize a toothbrush infographic

The moist surface of the toothbrush usually acts as a fertile breeding ground for many micro-organisms, especially influenza and common cold virus. Moreover, the bacteria in the mouth often get stuck to the toothbrush bristles. It is therefore essential to always clean your toothbrush after you brush your teeth. Some of the conventional methods of cleaning your toothbrush may include –

  • Thoroughly rinse the toothbrush under running water.
  • Soak the brush in an anti-bacterial mouthwash solution for at least fifteen minutes
  • A 3% hydrogen peroxide solution can also be used to clean the toothbrush. (7)
  • Spray the brush with chlorhexidine spray
  • Use any natural antimicrobial agents

After cleaning your toothbrush, it is essential to store it in an upright position and allow it to air dry. Do not store a moist toothbrush in a container. Proper toothbrush storage ensures total safety.

Take away message

There are several varieties and designs of toothbrushes available in the market. Some of them include manual, electric, and disposable toothbrushes. Every type of toothbrush adds a beneficial value to your oral health. By reading this article, you must have understood the importance of toothbrush as an oral health aid — moreover, the essential ways of selecting the best toothbrush.

Always keep in mind the three main criteria – head size, bristle, and ADA seal. While selecting the best toothbrush is crucial, it is also necessary to follow proper brushing techniques. Additionally, make sure you clean your toothbrush after brushing your teeth to avoid cross-contamination and store it correctly. Consult your dentist for recommendations of a toothbrush. Also, keep up with regular dental check-ups to prevent tooth decay and gum disease.


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