Are Electric toothbrushes better than manual brushes?
Written By David Cruickshank
“Our study shows that electric toothbrushes are most beneficial in maintaining good oral health and are linked with slower progression of periodontal disease.”
Dr Vinay Pitchika
Mouthpower.org is a reader-supported website. If you buy through links on our site, we may receive a commission.
Electric v Manual toothbrushes
Are electric toothbrushes really better? New research by the University of Greifswald in Germany says yes!
A team of researchers led by Dr. Vinay Pitchika studied a group of 2,819 individuals to compare the long term effects of using an electric toothbrush compared to a manual toothbrush.
There has been a number of studies done that compare the effectiveness of manual and electric toothbrushes but none have been conducted over such an extended period of time, and none have examined the resulting clinical outcomes.
The direct aim of the study was to measure the effects of electric toothbrush use on gum health, tooth decay and tooth loss.
The research was conducted over a period of 11 years making it the most in-depth study of its kind.
Over the 11 year period, the study showed that the popularity of electric toothbrushes is increasing as the percentage of participants using powered toothbrushes increased from 18.3% to 36.9%.
The research team monitored the measurements of the critical indicators of dental disease, namely gum pocket depth (PD), clinical attachment loss (CAL), tooth decay, missing teeth and fillings on teeth surfaces (DMFS).
Dr. Pitchika and his team concluded that the trial participants who used electric toothbrushes had less gum pocket depth, reduced gum attachment loss, and 20% fewer missing teeth.
The main takeaway from this study according to Dr. Pitchika is that electric toothbrushes are most beneficial for the prevention and control of gum disease.
Advantages of electric toothbrushes
Removing dental plaque from the teeth is the route to perfect oral health. Given the sticky nature of plaque biofilm the only effective method of removal is by mechanical force with a toothbrush and floss. Electric toothbrushes offer some clear advantages over manual brushes when it comes to maintaining a clean mouth.
Electric toothbrushes are more effective
A number of clinical studies have determined that an electric toothbrush can be more effective than manual brushes. It is certainly true that a manual toothbrush can give an excellent clean but it does require a level of effort and technique that some people find hard to maintain.
Built-in Timers improve dental health
Dentists recommend that everyone should brush their teeth for 2 minutes twice a day. However, research shows there is a big difference in the time people think they spend brushing their teeth compared to the actual time.
In one Swiss study a group of participants using a manual toothbrush over estimated their teeth cleaning time by over a minute. Another study estimated that people who use a manual toothbrush only brush for an average of 45 seconds.
The duration of a cleaning session is directly related to the amount of plaque removed from the mouth so it is vital that people brush for at least 2 minutes to get the maximum benefit from each cleaning session.
Using an electric toothbrush with a 2-minute timer will motivate users to brush longer, remove more plaque and improve their dental health.
Less reliant on brushing technique
Teeth brushing is an easy and effective way to remove plaque yet the fact that a large percentage of the population is suffering from gum disease suggests that people are not brushing with enough technique.
This study showed that proper teeth brushing with a manual brush takes time and effort to master and bad habits learned early can last a lifetime. An electric toothbrush, on the other hand, takes a lot of the hard work out of teeth cleaning. By combining high-speed cleaning motions and specially configured brush bristles, a powered toothbrush can give an excellent clean with a minimum of effort.
Ideal for people with grip problems or limited motor skills
Electric toothbrushes do all the hard work and do not require a lot of manual dexterity, this means they can be perfect for people with limited motor skills or mobility.
More engaging for children
Getting children motivated enough to brush their teeth for 2 minutes twice daily can be a challenge. A child’s electric toothbrush with a built-in timer can be helpful in stimulating an active interest in oral care. Kid’s electric toothbrushes are colorful and fun with some of them coming with engaging, interactive apps. With proper supervision, electric toothbrushes are suitable for children of 3 years and over.
Advanced Smart Technology Helps oral health
Smart electric toothbrushes with Bluetooth connectivity give live feedback on cleaning performance to highlight any areas that are missed. This can help to achieve a perfect clean for every surface of every tooth.
Electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors
Some of the best electric toothbrushes have built-in pressure sensors to prevent the users from using too much force and potentially damaging tooth enamel or causing gum recession.
Disadvantages of electric toothbrushes
Electric toothbrushes are more expensive than manual brushes. They can cost anything from $15 to $250 depending on features and quality. When you compare this to a $3 manual brush, the price difference is significant.
Specialist replacement cleaning heads can be hard to find
Replacement cleaning heads for electric toothbrushes are not always readily available in high street shops and shopping malls and need to be ordered online.
Advantages of manual toothbrushes
Cheap and cost effective
Manual toothbrushes are cheap compared to electric brushes, they can be bought from any general store for as little as $2.
It is Easy to travel with a manual toothbrush
Manual toothbrushes take up less space when traveling. Also, some electric toothbrushes are only designed to be used in the country they were sold in and won’t work in areas that use a different power supply.
Disdvantages of manual toothbrushes
Require More Physical effort
Manual toothbrushes can clean teeth perfectly well, but they do require more physical effort.
Require more dexterity
People with arthritis or neuromuscular disorders may have difficulty holding the narrow shaft of a manual toothbrush. Brushing teeth with a manual toothbrush requires a range of wrist and arm movements that people with a physical impairment may find difficult.
Even dentists can’t agree on the best way to use a manual toothbrush
A study by the University of London concluded that there is an unacceptable lack of consistent advice on how people should brush their teeth with a manual toothbrush. Dentists, dental associations, toothbrush/toothpaste manufacturers and dental textbooks still can’t agree on the best method to brush teeth. There are numerous different cleaning methods including the Bass technique, Modified Bass technique, Charter technique, Roll Stroke technique, Fones technique, and scrub technique. Some of these methods are quite complex and leave people confused as to how they should be brushing their teeth. Electric toothbrushes by contrast, don’t require any kind of technique because the high-speed motion of the cleaning head does all the work.
No built-in timer
People tend to overestimate the amount of time they spend brushing their teeth. It is estimated that a manual brush user only cleans their teeth for 45 seconds compared to the 2 minutes of brushing completed by someone with a timer-controlled electric toothbrush.
Electric toothbrushes for children
A child with poor oral health will have far-reaching health-related and self-image issues later in life. Dental decay and gum disease are two of the most common diseases in the world right now and evidence is mounting to suggest that poor oral health is related to serious, life-threatening health conditions.
It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child develops a robust dental hygiene routine that protects all 32 of their adult teeth throughout their lifetime.
An electric toothbrush can be a great way to inspire kids to brush their teeth with an enthusiasm that will help them develop healthy teeth cleaning habits. Children’s electric toothbrushes are colorful, fun and some come with educational, interactive apps that give feedback on the child’s teeth cleaning performance.
How to clean your teeth
There is a lot of contradictory advice on how best to brush your teeth. Even leading dental authorities have failed to give definitive, evidence-based advice. The Bass and Modified Bass methods are often recommended to adults, but these techniques are the most complex to perform and there is very little evidence to suggest that they are worth the extra effort.
According to Professor Aubrey Sheiham, the senior author of the University of London study on toothbrushing methods, a simple horizontal scrubbing motion while gently holding the brush at a 45-degree angle is a perfectly effective cleaning method to keep teeth and gums healthy.
5 teeth cleaning tips
Daily teeth brushing is the single most important action anyone can take to protect their teeth and gums from decay and disease. Unfortunately, the fact that dental caries and gum disease are two of the most prevalent global health conditions suggest that people are not making the most of their toothbrushes.
Brush teeth twice a day for a least two minutes
The amount of time spent brushing teeth is a factor that can have a huge influence on oral health.
This study showed that the amount of plaque removed from the teeth is proportional to the time spent brushing. The research clearly showed that a 3-minute brushing session removed considerably more plaque than a 30 second clean.
It is estimated that the average time a person cleans their teeth for is between 45 – 60 seconds which is too short a time span to give their teeth an adequate clean.
Brushing longer not only removes more plaque but it also gives toothpaste more time to transfer from the toothbrush bristles to the teeth and mouth. Research has shown that if you are using a toothpaste with a therapeutic ingredient like fluoride, the longer you brush your teeth for, the more fluoride is retained in your saliva. This results in better teeth remineralization and stronger teeth.
Most dental authorities and dentists agree that two cleaning sessions lasting two minutes each is the optimal brushing time.
Don’t brush immediately after eating
If possible, wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing your teeth. Acidic foods and drinks will temporarily soften teeth enamel making them more susceptible to toothbrush damage. This is especially true if you brush with a very strong grip, use a high powered electric toothbrush or use an abrasive whitening toothpaste. By waiting 30 minutes or more, your saliva will have time to naturally remineralize your teeth and return them to their full hardness.
Use a fluoride toothpaste
Although fluoride has become somewhat controversial in recent years, the fact remains that it has been proven to help strengthen teeth and reduce dental decay.
Spit, don’t rinse
After brushing your teeth, spit out any excess toothpaste. If you rinse your mouth you will wash away the possible medicinal effects of your toothpaste.
Replace your toothbrush at regular intervals.
Research at the University of Amsterdam showed that a worn toothbrush is less efficient at removing plaque than a new brush. It is recommended that you replace your manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush cleaning heads at regular 3-month intervals.
With a good cleaning technique, it is certainly possible to give your teeth a perfect clean with a manual toothbrush. However, there is mounting evidence to suggest that an electric toothbrush offers significant long term oral health benefits.
New studies on estimated and actual tooth-brushing times and dentifrice use
Saxer UP, Barbakow J, Yankell SL.