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Toothbrushes: Your keys to optimal dental health

February 18, 2012
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

February is traditionally designated as Dental Health Month, and we in America are emphasizing the practice of preventive dental care as the subject of the current health-related publicity. Undoubtedly, dental health is one of the aspects of our health care directly related to our own personal habits and behavior. The preventive dental care we practice usually defines our dental health and often our entire personal well-being. The catalyst providing optimal preventive dental care is appropriate usage of the toothbrush. I have invited one of our local dental health professionals, Kandice Vandendriessche, a registered dental hygienist, to discuss the value, usage, logistics and practical aspects of the toothbrush, that unique facilitator of desirable dental health and a beautiful smile.

Historically, the toothbrush was used by humans beginning with the chewing sticks found in Babylonia of 3500 B.C. It subsequently evolved into a pencil-like chewstick in China around 1600 B.C., where records show one end was chewed until it became brush-like; the other end was pointed and used as a toothpick. The Chinese also originated the bristled toothbrush that was brought to Europe by traders. Our familiar form of the toothbrush was developed by Addis in late 18th century England and perfected in America in 1857. The boar and horsehair bristles were replaced with nylon in 1938, and the electric toothbrush appeared in Switzerland in 1939 and in the general market in the 1960s. Toothpaste has a similar but more colorful past history. Amazingly, regular oral hygiene using a toothbrush only became popular in America following World War II, when returning GIs continued the habits developed (and enforced) during their military service. Routine and regular oral hygiene and toothbrush use is now considered an integral part of optimal general health maintenance.

Vandendriessche has kindly provided the factual and practical information and experience about those toothbrushes we are to be using.

Are all toothbrushes created equal? Do you choose the traditional manual toothbrush or go with the electric toothbrush?

Manual toothbrushes work well cleaning the teeth and gums as long as you position the bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gums; brush with short back-and-forth or circular strokes. Use the toe (tip) of the brush to clean behind the front teeth and along the gums on the inside of your mouth. Plaque usually lies along the gum line where the tooth and the gum meet, so be sure to brush as described above to remove the plaque and stimulate the gums. Flossing prior to brushing will also complement both actions, but only a dental prophylaxis treatment by the dental hygienist can remove tartar above and below the gum line. Be sure to brush the tongue to remove food and bacteria and freshen your breath. It is recommended that you use two toothbrushes, alternating them by time and day; toothbrushes should be used for three months and discarded.

Some people prefer the electric toothbrush for more thorough cleaning. These brushes usually have timers which help to ensure that the brushing continues for the recommended two minutes. For those patients who might scrub too hard, the electric brushes have soft bristles and eliminate the desire to scrub or abrade the gums. One only needs to guide the brush and allow the brush to do the work.

In the recent past, Brands Oral-B and Crest have teamed up to develop several electric toothbrushes. The "Vitality," a battery-operated toothbrush ($17-20), has oscillating and rotating bristles and three different heads including "precision clean," "sensitive clean," and "vitality" sonic brush heads. There may be new variants on the market.

The "Sonic Complete" ($80-100) compares to a "Sonicare" ($100) toothbrush, but it has three cleaning modes: the "clean" mode for the teeth, the "soft" mode to clean the tongue and tissues, and the "massage" mode for gentle stimulation. It also has three different positioned bristles on one head, and a built-in timer that prompts you to brush 30 seconds in each quadrant to complete the recommended two minutes of brushing.

One of the higher end options, the "Triumph Professional Care Smart Series 5000" toothbrush ($160) has a two-minute timer with a unique positive feedback feature: a smiley face appears on the timer while you are brushing! It has four brushing modes: "Daily Clean," "Soft," "Message," "Whiting" and "Deep Clean." The computer in the handle tells you when to change brush heads, and the timer will relate to you when you are brushing too hard! It has dual voltage for overseas travel.

As in all health aids, success depends upon appropriate and consistent use.

Vandendriessche's information and comments will be continued in our next column.



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