correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect website for the Nimbus toothbrush. It is nimbusdental.com, not nimbus.com. This version has been corrected.
If you have ever walked the long toothbrush aisle in a big-box store undecided, we have good news for you: “The best toothbrush is the one you’re using in your hand, if you’re using it right,” says dentist Mark Burhenne, creator and author of Ask the Dentist. This is despite the fact that today’s industry features a daunting number of plastic manual toothbrushes, compostable bamboo toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes and toothbrushes with replaceable heads that come to your door. Because we still have to decide on a brush in the end, we asked five experts for their picks. No matter what brush you choose, Burhenne says, what’s most important is to aim for the gum, to not overbrush and to try to clean for two minutes, depending on what kind of diet you eat; more sugar and processed foods equals more brushing.
When people really like their toothbrush, they’re more likely to brush regularly, says Mountain View, Calif., periodontist Daniel Nelson. An expert on the buildup of bacteria and plaque, Nelson uses a manual brush called the Nimbus ($11.99 for five, nimbusdental.com). It’s also the one he recommends to his patients. “It has soft bristles that clean under the gum line,” he says.
“For electric toothbrushes, Sonicare is still amazing,” says Melia Lewis, from Provo, Utah, one of four dental hygienists, or “hygienistas,” who run the site Hygiene Edge . “They do have a higher price point, but the sonic technology is still the best for removing soft buildup on the teeth.” Philips Sonicare ProtectiveClean 5100 Gum Health electric toothbrush has a pressure sensor to let you know when you’re brushing too hard ($89.99, target.com).
“How long does it take a toothbrush to decompose?” asks California-based Burhenne. Probably hundreds of years, he says. The new sustainable toothbrushes — often with bamboo handles — can sometimes have tough bristles that are hard on teeth. Burhenne says Radius’s Tour travel toothbrush, which is made of cellulose sourced from renewable timber and has vegetable-derived bristles ($6.99, madebyradius.com), is his favorite. The brush head is replaceable, so “about two-thirds of the toothbrush stays with you,” Burhenne says. “It’s soft and comfortable. The head collapses into its own handle.”
For the under-6 set, dentist Behnam Salar, owner of Toothfairy Pediatric Dental in Reno, Nev., hesitates to recommend a specific brush; all that matters, he says, is that you choose a brush with soft bristles, so it will “reduce the likelihood of self-inflicted trauma and recession of gums.” Once kids are 6 or older, Salar recommends switching to a Sonicare toothbrush, such as the Philips Sonicare for Kids rechargeable electric toothbrush ($49.99, target.com). “I find that the patients who use them do a much better job . . . in removing plaque and food debris from the base of their molars and bicuspid,” he says, explaining that they “are typically the tougher teeth to brush for everyone since they are furthest back in the mouth.”
Recently, San Francisco travel writers Lia and Jeremy Garcia, who run the blog Practical Wanderlust, researched toothbrushes that were “lightweight, packable and high-quality,” and took an especially close look at the bristles. “Most travel toothbrushes give you subpar brushes while on vacation.” They loved the Quip brush ($25-$45, getquip.com), which has “a sleek design, and the cover makes it ideal for throwing in your luggage while keeping the actual bristles clean,” Lia says. “Quip is also a fantastic electric toothbrush for travel because you don’t need to pack a bulky charger; the brush uses AAA batteries.”