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3 Types of Toothbrushes

Two electric toothbrushes on blue background

Your toothbrush. It sits there every day waiting and ready. You grab it, you use it, you might not think too much about it. But how many types of toothbrushes have you tried? Do you know which one works best? How about all the other important toothbrush stuff that you need to know? It’s time to find out everything you never knew you never knew about toothbrushes.

History of the Toothbrush

Humans have been taking care of their teeth using tools for at least 5,000 years. The earliest toothbrushes ever found are really just sticks that ancient people chewed on. The end of the stick was frayed and rubbed against teeth to remove food particles and mouth gunk.

And for a few thousand years, that’s just pretty much what you did. You just chewed on a stick. Finally, some enterprising people started making more modern toothbrushes with handles made out of bone, wood or ivory. The bristles came from the stiff hair of hogs and other animals.

Wooden toothbrushes in cup

Yes, animal hair. You have to remember that nylon, which is what all modern toothbrushes use for their bristles, wasn’t even invented until 1938. So for tens of thousands of years, people cleaned their teeth with wood and bones and stones and animal hair. And you thought you had it bad!

Refining the Toothbrush

The first thing really resembling an actual toothbrush has been dated to China, around the year 1,000. This was a small tool made of ox bone or ivory with horse mane or hog bristles at one end. This toothbrush design found its way to Europe in the 1600s. In 1885, toothbrushes were mass-produced for the first time.

They were kind of expensive, so toothbrushes at that time were not individual possessions. Rather, one toothbrush was shared by the entire family. Maybe tell your kids that the next time they want to complain about sharing.

Modern Toothbrushes

The world was getting more modern, however, and animal hair and bone just weren’t going to do anymore. Nylon was invented and plastic was invented. Toothbrushes started being made with these materials instead and as a result, became much more affordable. Now, many more people could have toothbrushes. The U.S. Army implemented a mandatory tooth-brushing protocol for all soldiers during WWII. Many kept up the habit and spread it to friends and family once they returned from foreign shores.

The whole toothbrushing thing really caught on and soon, most everyone had a toothbrush all their own that they didn’t have to share with anybody.

Different Types of Toothbrushes

After those first steps toward modernizing the toothbrush, a few different designs appeared on the scene. You’ve probably used a few of them in your lifetime of brushing your teeth. Get to know more about different types of toothbrushes and how they work to clean your teeth, what makes them different from each other, and which one you should be using.


This is the classic toothbrush that everyone has used. You probably get one free when you go to the dentist. A manual toothbrush is just a regular toothbrush with a long, slender handle and brush head that is all one piece. The bristles are attached at the top against one flat side.

Sound Feelings Toothbrush - Basic, Medium, 4-Pack, Adult

That’s basically it. But within that framework, manual toothbrushes can have some different features. The head of the toothbrush where the bristles are made in different shapes. Oblong shapes are common but some toothbrushes may have diamond-shaped heads or other designs.

The softness of the bristles on the toothbrush also varies. Generally, toothbrushes are sold with either standard bristles or soft bristles. When a toothbrush has soft bristles, it will be marked as such. Bristle designs may also have bristles of different colors and lengths to create a contouring landscape that is meant to fit your teeth.

Colgate Extra Clean Full Head Toothbrush, Medium - 6 Count

The handle of the brush may also have different features. Some are made in flattish designs, while others are more substantial and made with contours to fit the curves of your hand more comfortably. You might see extras like hand grips and flexible joints as well.

These little touches and extra features are designed to make it more comfortable or more effective when you’re brushing your teeth. Some of these features and designs may work well for you while others, not too much. You can play around with trying different designs to see what kind of toothbrush styles you like.

As the name says, you have to do the work with a manual toothbrush. You hold the brush in one hand and use the strength of your arm, elbow, and wrist to brush your teeth. You use all your own power to brush and clean your teeth.


A newer invention on the toothbrush scene is the electric toothbrush. These toothbrushes are typically battery operated and the head of the brush actually moves and vibrates, so it more or less brushes your teeth for you. All you need to do is hold the brush and guide it around your mouth while the head of the brush vibrates and moves, performing the brush strokes that you have to power through on your own in manual toothbrush designs.

Philips Sonicare 9900 Prestige Rechargeable Electric Power Toothbrush with SenseIQ, Midnight, HX9990/12

Electric toothbrushes have a somewhat thicker, cylindrical handle that is wider and heavier than manual toothbrush designs. This is because the handle serves as the housing for the battery compartment and the mechanics of the toothbrush. In some models, the head of the brush can be replaced. In other designs, you simply replace the whole toothbrush when you’re ready for a new one.

The brush head has a rotating section and a section that vibrates back and forth as you move the brush across your teeth. Electric toothbrushes are a good way to get your teeth clean with less effort. Some doctors recommend electric toothbrushes to patients who have mobility issues, such as people who have arthritis in their hands and fingers.


In addition to a more standard toothbrush, some people also need to use an interdental toothbrush. This is a special, smaller toothbrush used for cleaning gaps between teeth and getting around wire braces. This toothbrush has a small handle and a cylinder bristle brush that is meant to get into small spaces.

This cannot replace a more standard toothbrush design. Rather, this is a supplemental toothbrush used to reach places that a standard toothbrush might miss.

TEPE Angle Interdental Brushes, Dental Brushes for Between Teeth and Gums, Brush Micro Tight Cleaner, Plaque Removal, 6 Sizes, Multi-Pack

Interdental toothbrushes are smaller than standard toothbrushes and the bristles are shaped differently, wrapped in a spiral pattern around a metal core.

Types of Toothbrushes

Which types of toothbrushes work best for you? Pay attention to how your mouth feels after you’ve used a certain toothbrush. Through trial and error, you will notice which toothbrush types and styles leave your teeth feeling cleaner and which you prefer using.

Just remember to keep your toothbrush clean and replace it regularly. You know how they say that your product is only as good as your tools? Well, your teeth are only as good as your tools. Just make sure you have a toothbrush and that you use it. All the other stuff, you can work on sorting that out later.


Have you still got questions about the different types of toothbrushes and how to maintain them, use them properly, and what to do with them? We’ve got the answers to all the most commonly asked questions about toothbrushes. Good toothbrush maintenance is good teeth maintenance, so this is pretty important stuff.

Get the answer to the questions that most people ask and start learning how to take care of your toothbrush and your teeth a whole lot better.

Cup of plastic toothbrushes

Are toothbrushes recyclable?

Replacing your toothbrush is definitely something you should do regularly. However, that’s not so super for the environment. The Earth is managing a pretty big plastic problem.

It takes a ridiculously long time to break down, we’re talking thousands and thousands of years here, and people throw away a lot of it. That is a big problem. So what’s the deal with toothbrushes? Can they be recycled?

Well…yes and no. Some companies make recyclable toothbrushes, but this isn’t a product that has set the world on fire. Chances are, you still have one made with a lot of plastic. Some well-known companies that make tooth products have their own recycling programs. To participate, you can find information on those company websites.

However, you can’t drop a toothbrush in your recycling bin. This means that most people simply throw them away and they end up clogging landfills or floating in the ocean or otherwise causing a problem for the environment. You can always seek out recyclable toothbrushes or choose designs made with wood, which is a natural material.

How are toothbrushes made?

Toothbrushes can be made with wood, metal, and many other materials. But mostly, they are made with molded plastic and nylon bristles. Sometimes, natural boar bristles are used instead. Toothbrushes, for the most part, are made in fully automated processes. The mass-produced plastic types of toothbrushes you can find in the store are made this way, anyway.

Most toothbrushes are made from plastic that has been diced into small pellets. The pellets are put into an injection molding machine, which melts the plastic so that it can be poured into molds. The molds are clamped and pressure is used to keep them closed until the plastic cools. The clamps are then removed and the plastic is removed from the mold.

Holes are drilled into the plastic and bristles are placed into the plastic via machine. Next, the toothbrushes are packaged, labeled, and boxed up for shopping. It’s a pretty quick process that is mostly done by machines, though human hands are needed to move items around and maintain quality control.

How should you clean your toothbrushes?

You don’t have to go through any big process to clean your toothbrushes. Once you’re done, rinse the bristles thoroughly and stand the toothbrush upright so that the bristles can air dry. Don’t keep toothbrushes in enclosed containers where they cannot dry.

Moisture causes bacteria to grow. The very last thing you want is bacteria growing on your toothbrush. By allowing it to air dry, it will have time to get dry between brushes.

Can toothbrushes go in the dishwasher?

Rinsing your toothbrush in water thoroughly is enough to clean the toothbrush in most cases. But if you’ve had the flu or another viral illness, you may want to sanitize your brush to remove the germs. To do this, you don’t need to put it in the dishwasher.

Dishwashers, UV lights, boiling water, and other cleaning methods can damage the toothbrush’s bristles, which could, in turn, harm your gums.

To sanitize your brush, mix one cup of water with one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. Swish the toothbrush around in this mixture for a minute and then let it sit and soak for about 15 minutes. Rinse it and rinse it again, then let it dry, before you brush your teeth.

Should toothbrushes be covered?

Are you supposed to keep your toothbrush covered when you aren’t using it? The American Dental Association says that you should rinse your toothbrush and then let it air dry. Keeping it covered keeps it moist, which only encourages bacterial growth. You don’t want that on your teeth. So they say no, don’t cover it.

But there’s a problem. Anyone who knows a plumber well might know about this problem. See, there’s this thing called toilet plume. This is a spray of particles that includes human waste and water. And this spray occurs every time you flush the toilet. You can’t see it but the toilet plume can go pretty far and pretty high.

Which raises the question: where is your toothbrush? How far is it from the toilet and are you worried that fecal matter might get on the toothbrush that you stick into your mouth? Are you totally freaking out right now?

Yes, it sounds pretty gross and it is definitely frightening. One way to defeat toilet plumes is to get into the habit of closing the lid of the toilet seat each and every single time you flush. But to ease your mind, the American Dental Association has weighed in on this one, too.

According to them, the small amount of bacteria from toilet plumes hasn’t been proven to be especially harmful. In other words, no one is getting sick from toilet plume-related toothbrush contamination. While it is technically possible that the particles from toilet plumes could get on your toothbrush and then get you sick, the chances of this are pretty slim.

When should you replace toothbrushes?

You need to get a new toothbrush or a new toothbrush head every three to four months. That means you should go through three to four toothbrushes every year. Through regular use, bristles become frayed and worn.

Not only do they not clean your teeth as effectively, but they can also damage your gums when you brush and cause small cuts. If your toothbrushes tend to wear out even before three months are up, replace the brush anyway.


Canadian Dental Hygienists Association Position Paper on Tooth Brushing – Tooth Brushing

Made How – Toothbrush

Mouth Healthy – A look at toothbrushes

Platte Valley Dental Care – Can You Get Your Toothbrush Cleaner In The Dishwasher?

Recycle Nation – How are toothbrushes made?

Self – What’s the Most Sanitary Way to Store Your Toothbrush?

University Health Service, the University of Hong Kong – Types of Toothbrushes

WebMD – How to Clean Your Toothbrush