Word of Appreciation

Updated: 02/25/2011

“Battle of the Brushes: Manual vs. Electric”

(Excerpt from the book)

By Sheila Wolf, RDH (AKA "Mama Gums")

Our earliest memories of both dentists and their offices usually center around the toothbrush. The big one the dentist or hygienist used on the model teeth to show us how to brush, certainly, but also the FREE one we got to take home when our visit was finally over!

From the beginning, we are presented with a flurry of instruction as to this vital practice: brushing our teeth. Is it up and down? Side to side? Medium bristle? Hard? Soft? And the biggest question of all: What in the heck is that little Hershey's kiss shaped thing on the end?

Brushing is emphasized with good reason: It is the meat and potatoes practice that keeps bacteria from flourishing in the mouth. Further armed with the right toothpaste, dental floss, and a host of other best practices and my own special "chemical warfare" that make your mouth a cleaner place to live, brushing becomes the human equivalent of changing your oil every 3,000 miles.

But you can't start without the proper brush. But, which kind to use? There are two kinds of brushes: manual and electronic and/or sonic:

Manual Brushes

If you choose a manual toothbrush, I recommend one with soft, rounded, nylon bristles. (Natural bristles are better than nylon only if you have acrylic bridgework — you will have to ask your dentist for a more personalized recommendation).
A softer brush is always preferable to one with hard, stiff bristles. I would also consider using one that is smaller than what you are used to, as it is easier to manipulate around the often-cramped confines of your mouth. This is especially true if you have spaces caused by missing teeth, or if you have trouble reaching behind your last, hard-to-get-at molars.

I would also recommend that you alternate between brushes, using several different brushes daily, as each brush would benefit from drying out between brushings. So, if you brush 3 times a day, you should have three different toothbrushes. It will also give you a chance to try out different brushes - testing various brand names, bristle strength, size, etc. - to see which one you like the best.


Brushes can be placed in the dishwasher to sterilize them . . .

No matter which brush you choose to use, all brushes should be replaced every two-to-three months, long before the bristles splay and shred. Frayed or worn brushes eventually become ineffective - and even harmful - tools once they are too worn down and develop sharp edges.

Also, I suggest that you replace a brush after having a cold or even a sore throat, as the brush will harbor bacteria and you can actually re-infect yourself from a "germy" toothbrush. Ever notice that it seems to take forever to get rid of that nasty flu?

Well, it could just be your toothbrush!

Electric or Sonic Brushes

These relatively newfangled gadgets - although they seem to be popping up in stores all over the country these days - are brushes that electrically move vertically, horizontally, or even in combination.

The newest technology is the Sonic toothbrush, which is so advanced that it vibrates at thousands of vibrations per minute. This particular tool is very good at disturbing the bacterial colonies that next between your teeth and gums, which, as we have learned, can cause gum disease.

In electric brushes, I tend to prefer the Braun.

In Sonics, I like the Sonicare.

I do, however, like to recommend a toothbrush that feels good to you. One that you will enjoy using, that is practical for your particular budget, that won't just sit there collecting dust next to your crocheted toilet paper cover because it's too difficult - or frustrating - to use.

Whichever model you prefer and eventually decide to purchase, don't let technology take the place of what you have already learned: the method of brushing with either an electronic or sonic brush is exactly the same as using a manual toothbrush.

The directions on the electric/sonic brush may instruct you to "hold the brush stationary," but I don't think this method is very effective. After all, could you do a good job on your kitchen floor by just holding the mop against the surface?
Didn't think so . . .

Be sure to clean the insides of your top and bottom front teeth, in an "up and down" direction, rather than "side to side" like the rest of your teeth. I think two full minutes of brushing with an electronic or sonic brush is effective for contributing to the overall health of your teeth and gums.

Next time we will talk about the importance of cleaning the critical in-betweens using a dental irrigator, toothpicks and/or dental floss.

Sheila Wolf “BIO”

Sheila Wolf, RDH, affectionately called “Mama Gums,” has been a registered dental hygienist since 1971. She is currently retired from clinical practice but enjoys writing, speaking, and consulting on various oral health issues. She has authored two award-winning books, Pregnancy and Oral Health: The critical connection between your mouth and your baby, and Your Mouth Could Be KILLING You. Both are available on her website, http://www.mamagums.com/about_book.html, through Amazon, and at finer bookstores everywhere. Sheila also works with people privately as an oral wellness coach, educating and empowering people to keep their natural teeth for a lifetime, avoid gum surgery, and just possibly add years to their lives. You may reach Sheila through her website, www.mamagums.com or in San Diego at 866-MAMA-GUMs. 

Sheila will happily share her articles with you. Please acknowledge her contribution by including her “Bio” at the end of the article.

Mama Gums