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The Truth About Your Toothbrush

Did you know that one of the most important tools we use each day can cost as little as a few dollars, and has been around for less than a century? I’m speaking of course about your toothbrush. Tooth brushing implements have been found dating as far back 3500-3000 BC when Babylonians and Egyptians used ‘tooth sticks’ to clean their teeth. Centuries later, the Chinese would chew on fragrant wood to freshen their breath (around 1600 BC) and later in the 15th century, they’d also develop the first natural bristled brushes from the hair on pigs’ necks! The original Chinese design got a bit of an overhaul when it was brought to Europe centuries later, where Europeans often swapped out the pigs’ hair for something softer, such as horsehair or feathers- however, these materials were not preferred by everyone. Those who did not use brushes instead cleaned their teeth with a soft cloth and a paste of baking soda, soot, or salt. Following its migration to Europe, the toothbrush remained mostly the same until around 1784, when a shape more reminiscent of our modern shaped brush was developed.  The design didn’t change much again until in 1938 when DuPont developed the first nylon bristled brushes, which have been used around the world ever since.

Today’s brushes vary in many ways, from slight variations in shape to size, to bristle strength, electric and manual, and now even app-enabled. All these choices can often be confusing to consumers who are overwhelmed by all the options, but a general rule of thumb when selecting a brush is to go for a small headed, soft-bristled brush.  The small head is best because it forces you to focus on cleaning smaller areas at a time. It is easy to think that because the brush head covers two teeth at once, doing so constitutes adequate brushing. It doesn’t.  Using a smaller head means you can only clean one tooth at a time, which is the best way to ensure each tooth is cleaned properly. Also, when it comes to bristles softer is better, because hard bristles can easily damage the enamel of your teeth- even if you aren’t a heavy-handed brusher. For best (and safest) results, hold your brush at a 45-degree angle as you brush, brushing back and forth across each tooth (one at a time!) and make sure you get each surface of each tooth. Total brushing time should be at least two minutes; however, some experts believe teeth should be brushed for ten minutes each time for a truly thorough cleaning.

Wondering how often to replace your toothbrush or brush head? Experts say every six weeks- or whenever you or someone in your home has been sick since germs can travel from brush to brush if they’re stored close together.  Some brushes have ‘indicator’ bristles that change color when it’s time to swap them out, or just make a note on your calendar every six weeks- and keep a surplus of brushes on hand so you don’t use your brush longer than you should. And don’t pay attention to toothbrush hacks that tell you it’s possible to revive your old brush by swirling it around in boiling water. Part of the reason you should replace your brush is that it can harbor bacteria and germs. There are better ways to save more around the house- don’t put your health at risk over a $3-dollar item.

When storing your toothbrush, always keep it upright, as this will allow it to air dry properly. Never store your brush in a drawer, as the combination of darkness, room temperature, and trapped moisture can create ideal conditions for bacteria to grow on the bristles. Make sure when you’re done brushing that you rinse your brush with hot water or hydrogen peroxide or an alcohol-based mouthwash. Never microwave your toothbrush or clean it in the dishwasher, either! Experts also recommend that if you plan to travel overnight, either wait until your brush is completely dry before packing it or just buy a new brush for your trip.

Last, the most important tip about brushing your teeth – aside from brushing them twice a day, is to never, ever, ever under any circumstances share a toothbrush with anyone. Sharing a brush is an excellent way to transmit everything from colds, flu, viruses, gingivitis, and though unlikely (but not impossible), bloodborne illnesses.

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