The Electric vs Manual Toothbrush Debate

Written by: Paul Massari

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expert roundup titleIf you are switching from a manual to an electric toothbrush, you need to know which one will provide the best cleaning. We contacted 16 experts to ask their opinion on one lingering question:

“Are electric toothbrushes better than manuals?” 

We also dug deeper and asked them why they preferred one over the other to provide you with solid evidence. While powered toothbrushes boast superiority, are they truly the best choice? The results are interesting. Utilizing a sample size of 16 experts, we received a plethora of different views and opinions. Below, you will find a fully summarized roundup of what the consensus is and what dentists recommend. manual vs electric toothbrush

This is a common question and a good one. Studies have shown that an electric toothbrush is more effective and efficient at keeping our teeth clean. That being said, electric toothbrushes are not for everyone.Factors to consider are cost, storage, charging, vibration sensitivity, or just personal preference. Electric toothbrushes are especially important for those with orthodontic braces, seniors, and those who just need a little extra help in maintaining their dental hygiene. It is important to use a light touch when using an electric toothbrush and let it do the work for you. The oscillating heads can be harsher on your teeth and gums than a manual toothbrush. Whatever choice is made brushing with the proper technique and length of time (at least 2x per day for 2 minutes each time) is most important whichever brush you use. Read more.
In light of Children’s Dental Health Month, electric toothbrushes are extremely beneficial for kids that don’t brush thoroughly and are susceptible to cavities. Spending a few extra dollars on an electric toothbrush could save hundreds on dental procedures in the long run such as fillings for cavities and extractions of decayed teeth.
The question whether electric toothbrushes are better than manual ones skips a more fundamental point on brushing. More important for us is how conscious the person using the brush (manual or electric) is while brushing. You see, if a person is unconsciously scrubbing their teeth like they are cleaning a grout line (more common than many realize), then a manual brush is better because they will do less damage. Electric brushes can be very helpful when used consciously. However, when in the hands of someone brushing unconsciously, they are like using a shotgun when a slingshot may be a better tool and can cause plenty of ‘collateral damage’. For more information, check out our free video tutorial ‘How to brush your teeth to reduce gum disease’ here.
Any power brush is going to be superior to a manual brush due to the fact that it is multi-directional. You can find power brushes that vibrate using sonic technology (Sonicare) or ones that vibrate and rotate (Oral-B). Most will remove 5x more plaque than a manual brush. The removal of more plaque is great because it’s that plaque bacteria, if left on the teeth over a period of time, that mutates into that harder tarter.
The best brush is the one that a patient uses effectively. As long as a patient is keeping their teeth and gums healthy, I don’t care what kind of brush they’re using.  That being said, electric toothbrushes can make it easier for patients to get the job done right.  When one of my patients needs to improve their home care, I recommend an electric brush.
I believe the efficacy of a toothbrush is based on how you use it, whether it’s manual or electric. For people with good oral hygiene and use the right brushing technique manual brushes are fantastic.  For people who don’t have the greatest hygiene electric brushes allow them to be more thorough and provide more motivation. Especially the ones that count time and let you know how hard you are brushing.
There is no research to demonstrate that an electric toothbrush is better then a manual one assuming the person knows how the brush effectively. The only time an electric has an advantage is in the older population where dexterity is decreased. That being said if an electric toothbrush makes the patient want to brush more then am all for it.
I have been recommending electric toothbrushes in my dental practice for the last 15 years. I find them less technique sensitive when compared to regular toothbrushes and as such they tend to do a better job. Often when I notice that a patient’s homecare has worsened I ask if they are using a manual or electric brush. Commonly they respond that they have or had an electric brush, but lately they have been using a regular toothbrush. I ask them to start using an electric and often I notice a hygiene improvement at their next recall appointment.
It seems lower plaque levels and healthier mouths seem to be in patients using electric toothbrushes.
Electric Toothbrushes work great for some people if they know how to use them properly. If you brush and floss well and don’t have gum disease, an Electric Toothbrush isn’t necessary. Sonicare and Oral B are the main brands and they’re both excellent.

Overall electric toothbrush are the choice for the following reasons:

  • The vibrating action is more effective at removing plaque
  • They prevent the user from putting excess pressure on the gums which causes recession
  • They are helpful to motivate children since they seem toy-like
  • They are helpful if someone needs assistance to clean their teeth such as a senior or a smaller child
  • Some have a timer which ensures adequate cleaning time
I find there are several distinct advantages of an electric/battery operated over a manual. One is the ability of the electric to applied consistent, sustained brushing pressure. Often with a manual we will brush much harder on the side of our dominant hand. Many right handed people have significant toothbrush abrasion and gum recession due to this. Second, the electric brush often has a timer built in that reminds us to move on to the next quadrant. Spending the same amount of time brushing each quadrant is often a challenge for many people. The third reason I recommend them is to help the patients begin to guage the length of time that is required to adequately clean each quadrant of their mouth. The brush will remind you to change quadrants. Any additional benefit of the one of the newer brushes is a light that flashes if the patient is bearing down too hard. That is useful in preventing toothbrush abrasion and gum recession.
Electric toothbrush hands down over manual! Overwhelming evidence of superior plaque removal = healthy, bright smile!
Overall people maintain healthier gums with electric toothbrushes. Not only do they do a more thorough job removing plaque, but the better ones help prevent gum recession caused by overbrushing.
In my opinion, the high tech electric toothbrushes that are available now take the guess work out of brushing. Built in timers, rotation-oscillation brush movements and warnings if you are brushing too hard all combine to make electric toothbrushes a more effective tool for brushing teeth. That said, tooth brushing is all about the user’s technique. If the user isn’t getting the toothbrush to all of the surfaces of all of the teeth or if they are “cheating” the timer by brushing less or if they are not angling the toothbrush in the correct angle then, it really doesn’t matter if they are using an electric toothbrush or not. Proper technique is the key. Electric toothbrushes just make people that already incorporate proper technique into their routine find that they great results from the electric toothbrush. Those that don’t incorporate proper brushing technique probably won’t see much of an improvement.

The American Dental Association recommends that you choose a toothbrush that you like and find easy to use so that you’ll use it twice a day to clean you teeth. Here are five benefits to going electric:

  • They’re greener.
  • They have built-in timers so you brush the proper amount of time.
  • They’re easier to use for people with dexterity issues.
  • They keep you from brushing too hard.
  • They clean your teeth more thoroughly.

Added Later…

In general, electric toothbrushes can be more efficient than manual toothbrushes especially for those who have less manual dexterity. Smaller head designs can get into difficult to reach areas and the speed of the bristles passing over plaque removes these deposits better with the electric toothbrush. My favorite one is the Rotodent because it has many more filaments and they are extremely fine, flexible and non-abrasive.

What toothbrush do you use? Manual or Electric?
Leave a comment below!

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  • Deborah

    As a consumer, I don’t think electric toothbrushes are greener. All of them require the brush heads to be replaced and some of them are not much smaller than a manual brush, and in some cases, a large portion of the unit has to be replaced. How green is that? Why isn’t it possible to make an electric one that needs only the brush itself to be changed?

  • Paul

    Hello deborah, thanks for your reply!
    Well, I use an oral-b deep sweep, and only the brush head needs to be changed every 3 months. My brush head is not even half the length of a manual toothbrush.

    Anyway, I agree, it’d be great if there was a way to change only the bristles of a powered toothbrush.

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