Manual vs. Electric Toothbrushes: Which is Better?

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The available selection of toothbrushes has never been bigger. There are countless brands, designs, and claims of greatness.

The question is, which type of toothbrush will give you the cleanest teeth?

There is not a straightforward answer. Scientific research shows that two of the most important factors in plaque removal are brushing technique and length of time.7

Using an electric toothbrush can help you improve and simplify your brushing technique compared to a manual toothbrush.1

Electric vs. Manual Toothbrush

Here are the comparisons of using an electric toothbrush with a manual toothbrush.

Brushing with a Manual Toothbrush

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

When you see your dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings, they will be able to tell how well you are removing plaque from your teeth regularly.

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 proper 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
  • Other physical challenges.

Children even fall into this category. They have not yet developed great manual dexterity.

Brushing with an Electric Toothbrush

For many individuals, switching to an electric toothbrush can make a huge difference in their oral health.

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.

You have to get the bristles to work in the right area. Then 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 do not feel like their teeth get as clean. Powered toothbrushes also have improved stain removal. So, they can help you maintain a whitened appearance to your smile.

The Benefits of Using an Electric Toothbrush

There are various benefits to using an electric toothbrush over a manual option.

Electric Toothbrushes Improve Technique

Electric toothbrushes improve anyone’s brushing technique. They produce either effective vibration or circular motions to remove the soft plaque buildup.

Your job is to make sure the bristles touch all the surfaces of your teeth.

It is essential to understand that you can still have an improper brushing technique with an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes just improve your chances of plaque removal by simplifying the method.

Why Is Technique Important?

If everyone used a perfect teeth-brushing technique, there would not be a difference in plaque removal among the various toothbrushes available.

The purpose of brushing your teeth is to remove plaque buildup. Plaque contains 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 you should gently brush in small circles until you have covered every exposed surface of the teeth. Unfortunately, most people do not brush this way.

Most people employ a technique of quick back-and-forth motions. This method usually misses the edge of the gums. This leaves dangerous plaque buildup behind.

Electric Toothbrushes Improve Time

Many people think they are brushing their teeth for much longer than they are. They estimate they have brushed for one and a half to two minutes when they have only brushed for forty-five seconds or less.

Brushing for longer removes more plaque. Because people mistakenly think they are brushing for longer, the use of a timer is valuable.

Almost all models of electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer. This helps you brush for the recommended two minutes.

Many even have thirty-second intervals for you to time each quadrant of your mouth. This ensures 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. Or, 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.

Why Does Time Matter?

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 rush through the process, taking as little as 20 to 30 seconds. 

Increasing the amount of time someone spends brushing their teeth increases plaque removal. A longer time spent brushing is more effective at preventing dental problems like cavities and gum disease.

- 'The effect of brushing time and dentifrice on dental plaque removal in vivo'

Which Electric Toothbrush Should I Use?

Among the available brands and models of electric toothbrushes, a few stand out as superior:

  • Oral B has consistently produced electric toothbrushes with the highest efficacy at plaque removal and the longest lifespan. These expensive toothbrushes can last ten years or more.
  • Phillips Sonicare sells high-quality, long-lasting electric toothbrushes.
  • Colgate 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 is the Takeaway?

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

Read our reviews of the best toothbrushes.

Resources

(1) Jain, Yashika. “A comparison of the efficacy of powered and manual toothbrushes in controlling plaque and gingivitis: a clinical study.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dentistry vol. 5 3-9. 27 Feb. 2013

(2) Petker, Waldemar et al. “Oral cleanliness in daily users of powered vs. manual toothbrushes - a cross-sectional study.” BMC oral health vol. 19,1 96. 29 May. 2019

(3) Vibhute, Akshay, and K L Vandana. “The effectiveness of manual versus powered toothbrushes for plaque removal and gingival health: A meta-analysis.” Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology vol. 16,2 (2012): 156-60

(4) Yaacob, Munirah et al. “Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews vol. 2014,6 CD002281. 17 Jun. 2014

(5) Forrest, Jane L, and Syrene A Miller. “Manual versus powered toothbrushes: a summary of the Cochrane Oral Health Group's Systematic Review. Part II.” Journal of dental hygiene : JDH vol. 78,2 (2004): 349-54

(6) Sicilia A, Arregui I, Gallego M, et al. A systematic review of powered vs. manual toothbrushes in periodontal cause-related therapy. 2002. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995

(7) Creeth, Jonathan E et al. “The effect of brushing time and dentifrice on dental plaque removal in vivo.” Journal of dental hygiene: JDH vol. 83,3 (2009): 111-6.

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