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Brushing Up on Dental Products

Some expert advice on how to find the best dental products for you.
By
WebMD Feature

Six-hundred years ago, the Emperor of China embedded hog bristles in a bone handle and used his invention to clean his teeth. One drawback? Hog bristles were expensive and the whole family had to use the same toothbrush. Boy, have times changed.

Now the average supermarket shelf has endless choices -- from an array of brushes (manual, electric, large, small, those with contorted handles), to special flosses, electric flossers, mouthwashes, dentifrices (toothpaste to you), and every squirter, whitening tray, mouthguard, and weird appliance imaginable. It looks like a road company of The Marathon Man in there!

So what's hip and what's hype?

Toothbrushes

"The best toothbrush is the one that works best for you," says Kimberly A. Harms, DDS, a consumer spokeswoman for the American Dental Association (ADA) and dentist in private practice in Farmington, Minn. "Dentists, however, recommend everyone use a soft toothbrush, fluoridated toothpaste, and floss. This is enough."

Many dentists recommend a soft toothbrush. "Hard ones can wear away your enamel," Harms warns, but notes that patients do sometimes tell her they feel they are getting their teeth cleaner with a harder toothbrush.

As for all those newfangled bristle angles, Gordon L. Douglass, DDS, a Sacramento, Calif., periodontologist, says most toothbrushes now have longer bristles at the end for reaching back teeth. He recommends you select the right size toothbrush head for your mouth -- if it's too tightly stuck in there, you can't get to the back teeth effectively. "Medium sized is best," he says.

Some toothbrushes have a detection area that changes color when the toothbrush needs to be replaced. "You could just look at the brush," Harms ventures. "If the bristles are bent or curled, it's time for a new one. Usually every three months or less is best." Douglass says, "If your brush is curled, you're brushing too hard."

Speaking of brushing, if you're of a certain age, you probably aren't brushing incorrectly. Remember how your mother told you to brush "up and down?" "We used to think stimulating the gums by brushing them was good," Douglass says. "Now scientific studies show you should place the brush where the tooth and gum come together and then use a back and forth or rotary motion over the tooth itself. Yes -- back and forth!

As for those toothbrushes -- electric or manual -- that come with cartoon characters on them, if they make you remember to brush or increase the time spent waggling the brush around in there, Harms is all for them; kids like them, too! The same goes for those brushes with large, chunky handles. Kids and people with arthritis find them easy to hold.

Toothpaste

"We haven't wiped out decay yet," says Harms, "so we recommend a fluoridated toothpaste (even in cities with fluoridated water). Even older adults, who might have worn surfaces, can get cavities." Over time, she explains, fluoride soaks in and strengthens teeth, even though it may be slathered on the tooth surface for only a minute or two at a time.

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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