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Updated on December 22, 2022
7 min read

Are Electric or Manual Toothbrushes Better?

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

The question is, are electric toothbrushes better than manual ones?

There is no straightforward answer. Some research shows that two of the most important factors in plaque removal are brushing technique and length of brushing time.1 An electric toothbrush can improve both of these factors.

Because an electric toothbrush does much of the work for you, it can help improve and simplify your brushing technique.2 With a built-in timer, it can also help ensure you’re brushing for an optimal amount of time.

In this article, we’ll look at these and other benefits of electric toothbrushes, as well as some of the pros and cons of manual ones.

Electric vs. Manual Toothbrush

Here’s how an electric toothbrush compares to a manual toothbrush:

Brushing with an Electric Toothbrush

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

An electric brush 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 just 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. Some even feel that their teeth don’t get as clean if they ever have to use a manual brush. 

Powered toothbrushes also have improved stain removal. They can help keep your teeth looking clean and white.

Brushing with a Manual Toothbrush

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

When you see your dental hygienist for professional teeth cleanings, they’ll be able to tell how well you’re removing plaque from your teeth on a regular basis.

By following the instructions or recommendations your hygienist gives you, you can improve your technique and keep your manual brush.

However, some people find manual brushing with proper technique extremely difficult or impossible. 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

Young children even fall into this category. They have not yet developed their fine motor skills.

4 Benefits of Using an Electric Toothbrush

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

1. Better Technique

Electric toothbrushes improve anyone’s brushing technique. They produce either effective vibration or circular motions to remove soft plaque buildup. Your job is simply to make sure the bristles touch your teeth' surfaces.

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.

For optimal plaque removal, circular motions are probably better than just vibration.

2. Improved Brushing Time

Many people think they are brushing their teeth for much longer than they are. They may estimate that over a minute has gone by when they’ve actually been brushing for less than 45 seconds.

By brushing for longer, you’ll achieve more plaque reduction. Because people often mistakenly think they are brushing for longer than they are, using 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, perhaps the desire to follow the timer’s “instructions."

People tend to brush their teeth for longer with an electric toothbrush than with a manual toothbrush.

3. Easier to Use Properly

Because they make it easier to achieve effective technique and timing, electric toothbrushes can make a big difference for:

  • People with limited mobility who may have a hard time maintaining good technique with a manual brush
  • People undergoing orthodontic treatment with braces who might otherwise miss plaque or food particles that get stuck around brackets
  • Kids who may not have mastered fine motor skills like brushing (and may find electric toothbrushes more engaging)

Electric toothbrushes may also make it easier not to brush too hard. Excessive force when brushing can irritate your gums and wear away tooth enamel.

4. Less Waste

When a manual toothbrush has become worn and ineffective, it usually needs to be thrown out and completely replaced. Since electric toothbrushes typically only need their brush heads replaced, they can create less waste than manual toothbrushes.

Are There Any Reasons to Prefer a Manual Toothbrush?

While electric toothbrushes have a lot in their favor, there are still a few advantages to manual ones:

Cost

The most obvious advantage of a manual toothbrush, and the biggest con of electric ones, is the price. Manual toothbrushes often cost only a few dollars, while an electric model can cost hundreds.

Convenience

Electric toothbrushes often require you to replace the brush head from time to time. They may even do this via a subscription, having you make regular payments for new brush heads. This can be a hassle for some people.

Manual toothbrushes avoid this. They’re self-contained and don’t need replacement parts. They don’t need to be plugged in or have batteries changed.

Accessibility

Manual toothbrushes can be found virtually anywhere and are easy to travel with.

Electric toothbrushes aren’t available at every store that carries manual ones, and they may not be usable when traveling abroad due to different power outlets.

What is the Proper Brushing Technique?

If everyone had a perfect brushing technique, there would not be a difference in plaque reduction 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 the following:

  • First, place the soft bristles of the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the junction between the teeth and gums
  • Once you’ve got the brush head in the right place, you should gently brush in small circles
  • Spend about 30 seconds doing this over one quadrant of your teeth before moving on
  • Continue to do this until you have covered every exposed surface of the teeth

Unfortunately, most people do not brush this way. Instead, they employ a technique of quick back-and-forth motions. This method usually misses the edge of the gums, leaving dangerous plaque buildup behind.

By using an electric toothbrush, you won’t have to worry as much about having perfect technique. The circular motions and timing are already taken care of. All you have to do is make sure you reach every tooth surface.

There’s nothing wrong with using a manual toothbrush, however. Follow the steps above, so your teeth and gums get cleaned adequately.

What are the Best Electric Toothbrush Brands?

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

  • Oral B consistently produces electric toothbrushes with the highest efficacy at plaque removal and the longest lifespan. These toothbrushes can last 10 years or more.
  • Philips Sonicare sells high-quality, long-lasting electric toothbrushes.
  • Colgate has smart electric toothbrushes that deliver personalized care to guide you to brush better.

Start small if you are unsure about your need or desire to use an electric toothbrush. There are inexpensive models available at every drugstore and grocery store.

If you appreciate and adhere to your routine with a $20 toothbrush, you can feel confident investing in a $100 model. The increase in cost typically carries an increase in effectiveness and long-term use of the toothbrush.

Summary

Electric toothbrushes simplify toothbrushing, doing most of the heavy lifting for you. While there’s nothing wrong with using a manual brush, it’s easier to maintain the proper technique with an electric one.

Because of this, 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.

Last updated on December 22, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on December 22, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Creeth, Jonathan E., et al. “The effect of brushing time and dentifrice on dental plaque removal in vivo.” Journal of dental hygiene: JDH, 2009.
  2. 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, 2013.
  3. Petker, Waldemar, et al. “Oral cleanliness in daily users of powered vs. manual toothbrushes - a cross-sectional study. BMC oral health, 2019.
  4. 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, 2012.
  5. Yaacob, Munirah, et al. “Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2014.
  6. 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, 2004.
  7. Sicilia A., et al. “A systematic review of powered vs. manual toothbrushes in periodontal cause-related therapy.” Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet], Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK), 2002.
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