Best toothbrushes, optimal teeth-cleaning: Experts offer dental advice

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The advice from dental experts for keeping your teeth clean sounds simple enough: Brush twice a day and floss. But choosing among the many products available to help you do this can be daunting. Electric toothbrush or manual? Soft or hard bristles? String floss or water flosser?

The right answers depend partly on your preferences. “Hopefully what you experience with any toothbrush is that you’re getting your teeth clean, and then you’re going to want to use it again,” says Edmond R. Hewlett, a professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry in Los Angeles and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association (ADA).

But there are tooth-care products with clear advantages. We explain which dental hygiene strategies work best and what to consider when picking products.

Q: Are electric toothbrushes better for your teeth?

A: Most evidence suggests that they are, at least a little. A 2014 analysis of previously published studies by Cochrane, an independent, London-based panel of experts, found that over several months, powered brushes removed 21 percent more plaque and reduced gum inflammation by 11 percent more than manual brushes. Two more recent studies, by scientists who had funding from companies that make toothbrushes, found similar results.

But the real-life significance of that research might not mean much for your overall oral health. Electric brushes might be better for some people, says Olivia Sheridan, a professor of clinical restorative dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, because they can be easier to use for those who lack manual dexterity or have braces or permanent retainers, or those who care for someone who needs help brushing their teeth. But your technique may matter more than whether you use a manual or electric brush. Both types of brushes can be “completely effective in plaque removal” and in helping to prevent gum disease, says Sheridan.

What features should you look for? Cleaning ability is key, and it’s the most significant factor in Consumer Reports’ electric toothbrush scores. You should also seek out brushes with features such as a two-minute timer and a pressure sensor. The ADA says that most people brush their teeth for less than a minute, so a built-in timer can help. A pressure sensor can warn you if you’re pressing too hard with your brush, which can damage gums and enamel. Sheridan also recommends looking for brushes that pause when it’s time to move from one section of your mouth to the next.

Q: What kind of bristles are ideal?

A: Although you’ll find manual toothbrushes with bristles ranging from extra-soft to hard, medium- or hard-bristle brushes are best reserved for tasks such as cleaning the grout in your kitchen or bathroom tile. For your teeth, dental experts say you should use a soft- or extra-soft-bristle brush.

That’s because harder bristles can injure your delicate gum tissue. They can also potentially damage your teeth, says Clifton

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