Do Electric toothbrushes Whiten Teeth?
Written by Dr. Lara T. Coseo
Many electric toothbrushes claim to help whiten your teeth. Dr. Lara tells us if they really can.
The availability and accessibility of electric toothbrushes have changed drastically in the last decade. What was once a luxury is now available for purchase both over-the-counter and via online retailers at reasonable prices.
All electric toothbrush manufacturers make claims of improved cleaning ability and whitening power. Are they true?
Dr. Lara T. Coseo
Dr. Lara Coseo, DDS, FAGD currently serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
Can Electric Toothbrushes Whiten Teeth?
In order to answer this question, you must first understand a bit about tooth discoloration and the science behind teeth whitening.
Tooth discoloration is a combination of stains on the outside surface of the teeth and stains within the inner layers of the tooth.
Tooth Whitening: How Does It Work?
True teeth whitening requires the use of a chemical in the peroxide family to penetrate the outer layer of enamel on the teeth and oxidize (chemically break down) darkly pigmented compounds within the teeth to make them look whiter. This process actually changes the underlying color of the teeth. Because these chemicals penetrate into the internal structure of the teeth, they are capable of removing internal (or intrinsic) staining. These are stains that develop within the tooth over time.
While all true teeth whitening will involve the use of peroxide chemicals, the method of application varies widely. Many people opt for professional teeth whitening treatments performed by their dentists in office. Others prefer at-home kits to whiten at their own pace.
As with electric toothbrushes, the availability of over-the-counter teeth whitening products has skyrocketed in the last decade.
In addition to chemical teeth whitening, you can also achieve a brighter appearance of the teeth by polishing away external stains that collect on the outer surface of the enamel. Also called extrinsic staining, these accumulations of dark pigments on the outermost layer of teeth result from dark substances we eat and drink, like coffee, tea, and red wine.
It is important to understand that electric toothbrushes can produce the appearance of whiter teeth by removing external staining but they are not capable of changing the natural color of teeth in the same way that a peroxide-based whitening treatment can.
Electric toothbrushes are capable of removing extrinsic stains, and this is the only mechanism through which they may “whiten” the teeth.
Do Electric Toothbrushes Remove Stains Better than Manual Toothbrushes?
In general, the answer to this question is yes. However, it’s not for the reasons you would assume. It is not because electric toothbrushes inherently remove more plaque and stain than manual toothbrushes. The real answer lies in the way that people use electric toothbrushes.
Technically, manual toothbrushes used for the recommended amount of time and with the proper technique should produce the same effect as an electric toothbrush. What most studies find is that most people are not consistent in performing the correct brushing technique for the recommended two minutes when using a manual toothbrush.
Stain Removal Comparison
In one study, researchers compared the ability of electric and manual toothbrushes to remove stains left by a common prescription mouthwash called Chlorhexidine. When the test subjects were monitored in a test facility, the results between the two types of toothbrushes were relatively the same. However, when the subjects went home and continued using their “study” brushes, the electric toothbrushes produced better stain removal results. This implies that people using the manual brushes may have relapsed to a cursory or inappropriate brushing technique when unobserved.
Why are Electric toothbrushes better?
Scientists have proven that people who use electric toothbrushes have healthier gums, less tooth decay and also keep their teeth for longer, compared with those who use a manual toothbrush.
As we stated above, technically, they are not. However, because most people do not have a perfect brushing technique for the perfect amount of time, electric toothbrushes tend to compensate for that.
With manual toothbrushes, most people tend to use a lateral, back-and-forth motion as opposed to the recommended circular movements. An electric toothbrush provides the correct motion, so all the user has to do is make sure it touches each tooth. Electric toothbrushes do require a proper technique, but the requirements of the user are much simpler than they are with a manual toothbrush. By making the correct brushing technique more attainable, electric brushes do produce better plaque and stain removal.
Longer Brushing Time
Most people know that dentists recommend a two-minute brushing period. It takes two minutes to adequately reach every surface of every tooth in your mouth. Unfortunately, most people do not brush for the full two minutes.
Interestingly, they think that they do.
One study showed that people who claimed they had brushed for two to two and a half minutes actually only brushed for just over one. This study showed that the actual time people brushed was significantly different than the time they estimated in all cases.
The Importance Of Brushing Time
Pretty important! Another study showed that increasing brushing time from 45 seconds up to the full recommended two minutes increases plaque removal enough to provide significantly decreased risk for oral health problems. Because of the risk for gum disease when you lack adequate plaque control, using a toothbrush that provides better plaque removal helps you maintain good oral health. This study showed a reduced risk for gum disease when patients use an electric toothbrush long-term. This lower risk for gum disease includes a greater likelihood of keeping your teeth for life! Plaque not only causes dental diseases like cavities and gum disease; it also provides a sticky layer for dark pigments to adhere to the teeth and increase staining. With improved plaque removal, you will also achieve improved stain removal.
Most people do notice a brighter appearance to their smiles after switching from a manual toothbrush to an electric toothbrush. This is due to improved plaque and stain removal, which results from the better technique and longer brushing times that electric toothbrushes tend to produce. Because electric toothbrushes are now affordable and effective at producing better oral health, they are worth the cost, and the “whitening” effect is an added bonus!
Dr. Lara T. Coseo
Dr. Lara Coseo is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas.
Having practiced general dentistry for 13 years, Dr. Lara currently serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.