Choosing the Best Toothbrush for You: Types, Things to Consider

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Manual vs Electric
  2. ADA Approved
  3. Size of Brush Head
  4. Bristle Type
  5. Rounded or Straight
  6. Handle
  7. When to Change
  8. Costs
  9. Does it Matter?
  10. Tips
  11. Summary

Personal oral hygiene, especially brushing your teeth, is such a vital part of a daily routine that it is something our parents teach us from a young age. But there’s one lesson some many of us never learned, either from our parents or from our dentists: how to choose the right toothbrush.

Toothbrush types and designs vary in ways that impact their effectiveness in protecting our teeth and gums from disease and damage. Brushing with some models can even cause more harm than good.

While teeth-brushing properly every day is the most important consideration, your toothbrush matters. Always look for specific features that are best suited to your unique needs.

The best dental care product doesn’t have to be superior to available alternatives. It just has to be effective at cleaning your teeth and gums, and it has to feel right to you.

You have several decisions ahead of you. Among them:

  • Manual brush or electric brush

  • ADA Approved

  • Size of brush head

  • Type of bristles

  • Rounded or straight bristles

  • Brush handle

  • Cost

Manual or Electric?

Manual toothbrushes are the oldest products on the market, but most of the attention goes to powered ones that promise to make your dental care routine a breeze.

An electric model has rotating, moving or vibrating bristles that clean off plaque as you move them across your teeth. Manual options accomplish the same task, but you have to apply a little pressure and make the multiple brief strokes necessary to clean your teeth.

Automated bristle movements are the main difference here, but these don’t matter, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Whether you use a manual or an electric toothbrush, the effect on your oral health is the same.

If you prefer a manual brush, you can get your teeth and gums come clean if you brush twice every day for two minutes each time, making sure to brush the inside and outside of each tooth and along your gumlines. Attend regular dental exams to get professional feedback from a hygienist or dentist on your brushing technique and habits.

If your dentist thinks you’re doing well with a manual toothbrush, you don’t need to switch to a powered model. But some people prefer the automation and comfort of a powered toothbrush.

Modern versions of the powered brushing tools may include extra features like “smart” tracking, analysis, and rating of your brushing habits.

If you can use this feedback to improve your personal or family’s oral hygiene between dental appointments, a smart toothbrush may be a great option for you.

ADA Approved: Why Cheap Toothbrushes are Not Good

Medical research links poor dental hygiene to severe health complications like heart disease or stroke. Add in the possible oral maladies and complications from bad teeth – cavities, root canals, bridges, tooth extractions – and it’s not hard to make a case for using a quality toothbrush.

In short, the recommendation is to use ADA-approved toothbrushes. The ADA is a highly regarded authority on the subject of dental care. When they put their official “seal of acceptance” on a toothbrush, they’re assuring the public that the product is safe and effective. They can protect you (and your family) from serious dental and overall health issues.  

Here are some important guarantees that an ADA-approved toothbrush provides:

  • You can use it to control plaque buildup on your teeth, minimizing your risk of developing gum disease and other dental problems

  • Product is safe for use in the mouth

  • Product doesn’t have sharp-tipped bristles

  • Product’s handles and bristles are durable

ADA approval should be a non-negotiable minimum when shopping toothbrushes. Once you’ve identified product options that meet acceptable safety and efficacy standards, you can focus on the other personal preferences and needs.

Size of Brush Head

Bristles do the hard work of plaque cleanup, and the brush head size matters. That is because matching the brush head size to the size of your mouth is significant.

Even with a great technique, a brush head that’s too big for your mouth can impact plaque removal. The right size should allow for smooth movements, up and down and back and forth.

This way, your toothbrush can easily reach all teeth surfaces and areas inside your mouth. Extensive access helps efficiently eliminate all plaque and food debris from your teeth and under the gum line.

You should reconsider the size of the head if you experience discomfort when you twist your brush or try to reach your back teeth. Medium or small-sized heads would be better for you or generally people with smaller mouths.

One study suggested that a brush head for adults should be less than 25mm (about one inch) tall and less than 11mm (about half an inch) wide. It should be much smaller for younger kids.

Type of Bristles

Bristle softness is one of the most essential factors to consider when choosing your toothbrush, be it manual or electric. This attribute can vary by brand, design and model, from ultra-soft and soft to medium-strength and hard.

The right choice for you is a balancing act. On the one hand, you need the bristles stiff enough to dislodge plaque and food deposits.

On the other, brushing with hard bristles can harm hard and soft dental tissues. This is why the ADA recommends soft-bristled toothbrushes.

Softer filaments will be gentle on your gums and enamel while doing a great job removing plaque. You shouldn’t apply too much pressure when brushing, though.

Your teeth can exert quite a forceful bite and swiftly break down hard foods in your mouth. But when plaque settles on them, they may gradually get weaker and vulnerable to abrasive damage from brushing.

If you don’t feel that your soft-bristled toothbrush is effective enough, talk to your dentist about it. They can assess your teeth and gum line to determine if stiffer bristles are better for you.

Rounded or Straight Bristles

Toothbrushes come in a variety of bristle designs, all of which can impact brushing efficiency and safety. The two primary shapes on the market are:

  • End-rounded

  • Straight, sharp or jagged tipped

If you go with an ADA-approved brush, you’re automatically choosing end-rounded bristles. The organization doesn’t approve toothbrush models with sharp tips.

Rounding bristle tips makes them smoother and safer on your soft and hard dental tissues. They’re less likely to damage your enamel or gum when you use your brush.   

Sharp or straight bristles may produce the opposite effect on your teeth despite their plaque removal effectiveness.

The only issue in choosing end-rounded bristles is that they’re too small to spot without magnification. You’d have to read the product’s packaging or label for the bristle specification.

Better yet, look for the ADA seal of approval. It’s a more reliable guarantor of toothbrush safety.

Brush Handle

When selecting a toothbrush, make sure to assess the handle design. The most important considerations include ergonomics and grip.

The more comfortable you’re with your brush, the more effectively you can use it to clean your teeth. This factor is particularly essential when choosing brushes for younger children with poor brushing technique.

Common brush handle designs include:

  • Indented: These handles are contoured or indented on the sides to provide a firmer grip. The design improves toothbrush handling and control, making it ideal for adults and kids.

  • Soft thumb position: Whichever way you hold your brush, your thumb plays a key role. Most ergonomic handles have soft rubber areas for the thumb position for comfortable handling.

  • Offset head: With this style, the handle and bristle tips are on the same plane when brushing. It makes it easier to maneuver your toothbrush into and around the mouth.

  • Angled head: These handles allow better access into hard-to-reach areas of your mouth, including inner surfaces of your molars.

  • Straight handle: This design doesn’t offer angular enhancements for better mouth access, so you’d need a proper technique to use it effectively. It’s probably not the best handle style for small children.

How Often Should I Change my Toothbrush?

Toothbrushes do a great job protecting your teeth when they’re new, with their bristles straight, sturdy enough and soft. Straight filaments can more effectively remove food deposits stuck between and around the bases of your teeth.   

Say, you brush your teeth for two minutes, twice a day, as recommended. In four months, that’s nearly 500 minutes of brushing, which is a good time to replace your toothbrush.

The recommended time to change your toothbrush is every three to four months. Sometimes, you may need to replace it sooner.

The most obvious tell-tale sign of brush wear and ineffectiveness is frayed bristles – if the filaments are bent and spread out.

Your brushing habits can impact the rate of bristle wear, which is why the replacement frequency is amendable.

It’s the same for a powered toothbrush. The only difference is that you’d be replacing the brush head instead of the entire device, every three months.


After you’ve found toothbrush models that best suit your oral hygiene needs, you can focus on your budget.

Manual toothbrushes are available in most online and brick and mortar stores for less than $10, depending on features and brand. You can also buy some basic electric brushes for less than $10, especially models that run on replaceable batteries.

The cost of powered toothbrushes increases with each added feature or convenience. Prices start around $25 for devices with rechargeable batteries but without artificial intelligence-driven analytics.

At the top of the price range, you’ll find “smart” powered toothbrushes with wireless connectivity. Some models go for less than $100, while high-end options may cost $250 or more.

How Important is the Type of Toothbrush to Oral Health?

If by “type” you mean manual vs. powered, the difference doesn’t necessarily impact your oral health. The two types of toothbrush work the same and their effective use depends on the user’s brushing technique and habits.

However, electric toothbrushes can be easier to use for some people. How user-friendly a toothbrush is impacts its effectiveness, so type is important in this sense.

That said, not everyone who uses a powered toothbrush makes the most of it. So, again, brushing technique and habits make all the difference in everyone’s oral health.

Toothbrush design variations like bristle softness, head design, and handling can also affect brushing results.

Brushing Tips for Best Oral Hygiene

Good brushing habits are necessary to keep your teeth clean, free of disease-causing plaque. Here are some practical guidelines to help you establish a highly effective oral hygiene routine:

Get your technique right

You should brush as follows:

  • Put your toothbrush into your mouth at a 45-degree angle against your gum line

  • With smooth, brief back-and-forth movements, clean the outer surface of front upper and lower teeth

  • Reach for the back molars, brushing their exterior and chewing surfaces

  • Tilt the brush vertically to clean the inner surfaces of your teeth with gentle up-and-down movements

  • Brush your tongue

Summary: Ground Rules for Proper Brushing

Here are the basic ground rules for cleaning your teeth:

  • Brush your teeth twice every day (each session should last 2 minutes to get all the areas and surfaces)

  • Use the right size and shape of brush for your mouth to allow smooth movements and access to all areas, including back teeth

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to protect your gums and teeth

  • Use ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste

  • Use a new toothbrush every three or four months

  • After brushing, wait before rinsing your mouth with water (rinsing right away reduces the protective effects of the toothpaste)

Proper brushing habits combined with the right toothbrush make for better oral health. But using the wrong type of brush may defeat the purpose of this important oral hygiene routine. While there are various factors to consider when choosing the best toothbrush for you, ADA approval can point you in the right direction. If not sure what’s best for you, see your dentist for personalized guidance.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.