Often parents will ask about tooth brushes and whether the brush they are using for their childʼs teeth is appropriate. The answer to that question is that “it depends”.

According to the scientific literature and to a study published by one of the most definitive sources, the Cochrane Group, a manual toothbrush can be just as effective as an electric one. There are some considerations, however. Like any instrument or tool, the function of the toothbrush is only as effective as the hand that wields it. The “best” toothbrush in the world is not effective if it is only being used once (or less) per day, or only or a brief period (less than a minute), or with poor technique.

As far as size and shape go, the best way to choose a manual brush is to look at the label on the package. Generally, there will be an indication regarding the age of the child that the brush is suited for. The majority of companies will recommend their smallest brushes for the youngest children. It is not recommended to use a brush that is too large, as this will make it difficult to reach the harder to get areas in a small mouth and may actually be quite uncomfortable for the child. This often leads to a power struggle between parent and child around toothbrushing simply because brushing with a toothbrush that is too large hurts.

One of the most important things to look at when buying a brush is to look for one with soft bristles. There is no advantage to using stiffer bristles for children or adults. According to recent literature, the small round head spin-type brush is the most effective of the electric brushes. Electric toothbrushes have less variety in head shape and size. Some electric brushes are available with a small round brush head, others have elliptical shaped heads, not suitable for young children. If you decide that an electric toothbrush will work for you and your child look for one that has small, round brush heads which can be replaced when they wear out. Being able to replace dead batteries will extend the life of an electric toothbrush. Given the variety of electric toothbrushes available there is no need to buy an expensive model.

Which one is best though? Personal preference plays a big role here. Some children prefer manual brushes because they donʼt like the vibration associated with electric toothbrushes. Some children are happy with electric toothbrushes because they come equipped with various gimmicks to keep them interested, like cartoon themes or music while brushing. Whether manual or electric, the actual act of brushing takes about 2 minutes, twice per day, and a small wipe of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a small pea, smaller for kids under 3, should be used.

Like most material things in our lives, toothbrushes do wear out. Toothbrushes, manual or electric brush heads, should be replaced at least every three to six months or when your child has been ill. Brushes can also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected in an automatic dishwasher. However, when the bristles start to look the dog has been eating them itʼs time to replace that brush with a new one.

The bottom line is to make toothbrushing a ʻfunʼactivity and to develop consistent habits when your children are young and impressionable