Manual vs. Electric Toothbrushes: Which is Better?

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Evidence Based
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The available selection of toothbrushes has never been bigger. There are countless brands, designs, and claims of greatness. Which type of toothbrush will truly give you the cleanest teeth?

colgate smart electric

Actually, there is not just one simple answer because there are multiple factors in a toothbrush’s ability to remove plaque. Scientific research shows that two of the most important factors in plaque removal are brushing technique and length of time.

Technique Matters

If everyone used a perfect teeth-brushing technique, then there would not be a difference in plaque removal among the various types of toothbrushes. The purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove plaque buildup because plaque contains the dangerous bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease.

The correct brushing technique requires angling the soft bristles of the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the junction between the teeth and gums, then gently brushing in small circles until you have covered every exposed surface of the teeth. Unfortunately, most people do not brush this way. In general, most people employ a technique of quick back-and-forth motions that miss the edge of the gums, leaving dangerous plaque buildup behind.

Electric Toothbrushes Improve Technique

Electric toothbrushes improve anyone’s brushing technique because they produce either effective vibration or circular motions to remove the soft plaque buildup. Your job is simply making sure the bristles touch all the surfaces of the teeth. It is important to understand that you can still have an inappropriate brushing technique with an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes simply improve your chances of plaque removal by simplifying the technique.

Time Matters

In addition to poor technique, another problem many people have with brushing their teeth is performing this important task for an inadequate amount of time. Too many of us just rush through the process, taking as little as twenty to thirty seconds. 

Studies show that increasing the amount of time someone spends brushing his or her teeth does actually increase plaque removal. Therefore, a longer time spent brushing is more effective at preventing dental problems like cavities and gum disease.

Electric Toothbrushes Improve Time

More research into brushing habits reveals that people think they are brushing their teeth for much longer than they actually are. They estimate that they have brushed for one and a half to two minutes when they’ve actually only brushed for forty-five seconds or less. Because brushing for longer removes more plaque and because people mistakenly think they are brushing for longer, the use of a timer is valuable.

Almost all models of electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to help you brush for the recommended two minutes. Many even have thirty-second intervals for you to time each quadrant of your mouth and ensure an even amount of brushing in each area.

There is also something about an electric toothbrush that makes people want to brush for longer. It could be a psychological factor; it could be the desire to follow the timer’s “instructions”. Whatever it is, people tend to brush their teeth for longer with an electric toothbrush than with a manual toothbrush.

Manual is Good

We do not want to imply that brushing your teeth with a manual toothbrush is bad. It certainly is not. And if you diligently apply yourself to using the proper technique, you will effectively remove plaque and keep your mouth healthy.

When you see your dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings, he or she will be able to tell how well you are removing plaque from your teeth on a regular basis. If you follow any instructions or recommendations from your hygienist, you can improve your technique and keep your manual toothbrush.

However, manual brushing with the right technique is extremely difficult or impossible for some people. This includes people who have trouble with small, detailed hand movements, like those with severe arthritis, history of stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or other physical challenges. Children even fall into this category, as they have not yet developed great manual dexterity. For individuals, switching to an electric toothbrush can make a huge difference in their oral health.

Electric is Better

An electric toothbrush does quite a bit of the “technique work” for you. Someone with physical challenges or problems with manual dexterity will benefit greatly from an electric toothbrush. As we stated earlier, you just have to get the bristles to the right area, and the toothbrush takes care of the proper motion.

Electric toothbrushes improve plaque removal for many people so much that, when they have to use a manual toothbrush, they don’t feel like their teeth get as clean. Electric toothbrushes have improved stain removal, so they can actually help you maintain a whitened appearance to your smile.

Which Electric Toothbrush Should I Use?

Among the available brands and models of electric toothbrushes, a few stand out as superior. Oral B and Phillips Sonicare have consistently produced electric toothbrushes with the highest efficacy at plaque removal and the longest lifespan. These expensive toothbrushes can last ten years or more! Colgate also has smart electric toothbrushes that deliver personalized care to guide you to brush better.

If you are unsure about your need or desire to use an electric toothbrush, start small. There are inexpensive models available at every drugstore and grocery store. If you find that you appreciate and adhere to your routine with a $20 toothbrush, then you can feel confident investing in a $100 model. The increase in cost typically carries with it an increase in effectiveness and long-term use of the toothbrush.

What’s the Takeaway?

Most people will have improved oral health with the consistent use of an electric toothbrush, and they are worth the financial investment.

Read our reviews of the best Electric Toothbrushes.

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