What Really Matters About Toothbrush Bristle Stiffness
Hard, soft or in between?
The first toothbrush with bristles was made in late 15th century China from a piece of bone or bamboo with stiff hairs from the back of a boar’s neck attached. Toothbrush bristles were made with hog hair up until 1938, when a Frenchman named Dupont decided nylon would be more suitable.
Now, we’ve since evolved the materials we use in our oral care, but that doesn’t mean choosing a toothbrush is any less confusing. Most dentists will recommend using soft-bristled toothbrushes. Yet the American Dental Association still officially accepts many brushes with hard and medium bristles. The ADA is the authority on oral health for most Americans, but its guidelines for “acceptance” essentially require a brush to last over extended use and pose little risk of hurting the user. Staying within the ADA guidelines doesn’t mean you’re getting the best brush possible.
So, how do you choose? Of course, we think soft bristles are best (we sell them), but we want to debunk some of the confusion surrounding toothbrushes by comparing hard- and medium-bristled brushes with soft ones.
The good and bad about stiffer bristles
Many people report using stiffer bristles because they feel cleaner after brushing. The stiffness allows for easy removal of plaque and stains. However, that clean feeling may actually be damaging.
“Depending on how vigorously you brush your teeth and the strength of your teeth, medium- and hard-bristled brushes could actually damage the gums, root surface, and protective tooth enamel,” writes WebMD on its oral care guide. The stiffer bristles also pose a greater risk of damaging gums and enamel, and even causing gums to recede.
“You really don’t want receding gums,” writes Caitlin Batchelor on the blog for her dental practice in Virginia. “If gum recession gets bad enough, the bone supporting your teeth can be seriously damaged and slowly lost over time, and if recession gets really bad you may actually risk losing your teeth.”
Stiffer bristles do often last longer—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Toothbrushes should be changed every three months to keep them clean.
Why switch to soft bristles?
Simply put, soft bristles are easier on your teeth. They help avoid the problems that often come with using stiffer brushes. And with proper brushing technique, they clean just as hard as stiffer bristles. Plus, the softer bristles can slide between teeth more easily, cleaning the hardest to reach spots.
Our point of view? You can be kind to your mouth and avoid dangerous problems by trying a softer brush.