It all started with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks...”

It all started with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks…”

[Editor’s Note: This article is part one of a three part series. You can also read part two and part three.]

The variety of choices we have for dental care products has grown rapidly in the past one hundred years. Some time-tested tools have achieved classic status. The toothbrush and toothpaste come immediately to mind. But the list hardly ends there.

Today, we have electric toothbrushes, water flossers, gum stimulators, whitening products, and denture preparations.

In this three part series we’re going to dig into the details about dental care products.

Part one of our dental care products tour will look at toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash.

Manual Toothbrush

The history of the toothbrush goes all the way back to at least 5000 years before the current era (BCE), according to Thomas P. Connelly, D.D.S. It all started, he says, with the index finger, which people eventually replaced with “chewing sticks,” a name for the twigs that people simply chewed on. These were first used in ancient Babylonia around 3500-3000 BCE.

Now, flash forward all the way to the 1930s. That’s when the toothbrush, as we know it, finally arrived on the scene thanks to the invention of nylon, which quickly found its way into toothbrushes in the form of bristles.

What it does: Toothbrushes help scrape away food particles and plaque, the film that forms on teeth after eating, which is the primary cause of tooth decay.

Why it’s important: Aside from the fact that chewing on twigs is kind of gross, a sturdy, modern toothbrush is the first and best way to keep your teeth clean and healthy.

Who should use it: Only people who want to keep their teeth.

Electric Toothbrush

With electricity came a whole flood of inventions that just as quickly disappeared or never even saw the light of day. We’re thinking, for example, of Thomas Edison’s epic fail, the electric pen, which, rather than push ink, poked holes. (Seriously, you can look it up.) The electric toothbrush, on the other hand, is here to stay.

What it does: Just what a manual toothbrush does, but with far less manual work on your part.

Why it’s important: According to Consumer Reports, it might not be all that important. “In the past, Consumer Reports has said electric and manual toothbrushes are equally effective as long as you brush teeth thoroughly for 2 minutes, twice a day. An electric toothbrush may help, however, if you have arthritis or a dexterity problem that makes thorough brushing difficult.”

Who should use it: Anyone who is able to use a manual toothbrush should be able to use an electric one. Kids, of course, may need a little help at first. And if arthritis or another problem affects your ability to use a manual toothbrush, an electric brush may be just what you need.


When did toothpaste make it’s first appearance, you ask? According to Dr. Connelly, “ancient Egyptians were making a ‘tooth powder’ as far back as 5000 BC.” This tooth powder, he says was the first toothpaste. It “consisted of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice,” he notes. Tasty.

What it does: Like soap, toothpaste lubricates and traps dirt – food particles, plaque, and other germs, in this case – so they can be rinsed away more easily, leaving the teeth clean, or at least cleaner than before.

Why it’s important: While brushing goes a long way toward getting teeth clean, brushing with toothpaste can be an even more effective combination. Dentists recommend you use toothpaste with fluoride.

Who should use it: Just about everyone. Talk with your dentist about the right type for you and your family members.


Did you know there are three basic categories of mouthwash? Which type is right for you?

Did you know there are three basic categories of mouthwash? Which type is right for you?

How did there get to be so many rinses to choose from? And how can you narrow it down to make the best choice?

Well, it may help to know that there are three basic categories of mouthwash: antiseptic rinses, mouthwashes that contain fluoride, and ones that offer cosmetic benefits.

What they do: The antiseptic type is intended to help fight tooth decay. It attacks plaque, the film of bacteria that would otherwise build up on the surface of your teeth. Mouthwashes with fluoride also help fight tooth decay. However, they work by making the enamel surfaces of your teeth resist plaque better. Finally, the cosmetic mouthwashes do little more than mask bad breath, though they may taste or feel refreshing as well.

Why it’s important: Using a dental rinse may be very important in some cases, and it may not be recommended at all in other situations.

Who should use it: Depending on a person’s situation and whom you ask, the question whether to use a daily mouthwash or oral rinse may have different answers.

Unlike toothbrush and toothpaste, there is some leeway for when and if to use mouthwash as part of a dental hygiene routine. So, it’s important to discuss mouthwash use with your dentist.

The Dental Care Products Overview as Just Begun

Today, many dental care products vie for our attention. We’re all pretty familiar with the top 3 covered in this post. However, do you know what all those other products are for, why they’re important, or who should be using them?

To learn more, read part two and part three of our dental care product overview.


bottles with mouthwash

The three basic types of mouthwash include antiseptic, fluoride, and cosmetic varieties.

To rinse or not to rinse? Depending on personal circumstances and whom you ask, the question whether to use a daily mouthwash or oral rinse has different answers.

There are many types of mouthwashes, and everyone’s health is unique, so it’s important to understand the pros and cons of using mouthwash.

But first, an overview…

There are three basic categories of mouthwash: antiseptic mouthwashes, rinses that contain fluoride, and those that claim cosmetic benefits.

  • Antiseptic mouthwashes are designed to fight tooth decay by attacking plaque, the thin film of bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth
  • Mouthwashes that contain fluoride help fight tooth decay by making enamel tooth surfaces more resistant to plaque
  • Cosmetic mouthwashes simply help to reduce or mask bad breath and provide a refreshing feeling and taste for users

Pros and cons of using mouthwash on a daily basis 

Generally speaking, there are as many potential benefits as there are possible downsides to daily mouthwash use. Let’s start our comparison with a focus on the upside.

…while oral rinses can temporarily improve bad breath, most are not a permanent solution.

As we all know, mouthwash kills bad breath. What you may not have learned is that while oral rinses can temporarily improve bad breath, most are not a permanent solution. For that, you may need a special therapeutic rinse.

Nevertheless, using a mouthwash on a regular basis can help improve your mouth’s overall cleanliness. Gargling and swishing with an oral rinse can help to remove any remaining debris after flossing or brushing. Antibacterial and fluoride mouthwashes can help protect your gums and tooth enamel against inflammation, infections, and decay.

When not to use mouthwash

There are a number of dentists who say using a daily mouthwash is not crucial to oral health. They believe that brushing and flossing without mouthwash is an adequate daily oral health routine.

In some cases, skipping mouthwash altogether is definitely recommended. For example, children under the age of six and anyone who has difficulty rinsing and spitting should not use mouthwashes or rinses.

Alcohol-based mouthwash in particular presents a number of concerns. The high alcohol content in many brands of mouthwash can lead to dry mouth, cause tooth sensitivity, and aggravate canker sores. In addition, since the 1970s, studies have suggested there may be a link between mouthwashes that contain alcohol and oral cancer because the alcohol dissolves the mucous layer, leaving the mouth vulnerable to cancer-causing agents.

What does your dental health professional recommend?

Dental professionals generally agree: it is more important to brush your teeth twice a day and use dental floss than it is to use a mouthwash every day.

There are certain situations when using a daily mouthwash is recommended. For example, based on any special oral health needs — such as a recent periodontal surgery, difficulty flossing or brushing, or to treat infection, reduce inflammation, or reduce pain — your dentist may recommend rinsing daily or more often for a period of time. Similarly, to help relieve canker sores, your dentist may recommend a simple salt and water rinse or other mouthwash as a temporary treatment.

…you should talk to your dentist or oral hygienist about whether regular rinsing is right for you.

In general, though, because there are so many variables when it comes to mouthwash use, you should talk to your dentist or oral hygienist about whether regular rinsing is right for you. Together, you can determine the type of mouthwash ingredients and rinsing frequency that will suit your personal needs.

If you do decide to rinse, always remember: washing, gargling, or rinsing are very different from drinking. While you may accidentally swallow a small amount of most mouthwashes without any trouble, no mouthwash should be deliberately ingested. Some ingredients in mouthwashes can actually be poisonous if consumed in large-enough quantities.

Finally, it’s important to understand that just gargling with mouthwash or only using a dental rinse is not an acceptable substitute for brushing and flossing. After all, you wouldn’t skip the shower and just make do with a splash of perfume or a dash of cologne, would you?

For definitions of dental terminology, visit our Online Resources. Be sure to consult with your dentist or dental hygienist if you need additional guidance.

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