Electric Toothbrush Vs. Manual Toothbrush

Toothbrushes
An electric toothbrush lays next to a manual toothbrush on a white counter. (Image: MileA/iStock/Getty Images)

The health of your teeth and gums depends in large part on regular and correct brushing. To accomplish this, the American Dental Association recommends daily flossing and brushing twice a day. Although the toothpaste, rinses and floss you use have an impact on successful cleaning, the type of toothbrush and the brushing method you use is the most important factor. Part of choosing the right toothbrush involves evaluating the differences between an electric toothbrush vs. a manual toothbrush.

Effectiveness

An electric toothbrush operates by rotating, oscillating or vibrating without requiring any action on your part other than to turn it on. The movements of a manual toothbrush depend on actions you perform, and because you cannot match the movements of even the slowest electric toothbrush, you might think an electric toothbrush is more effective in removing plaque. However, the American Dental Hygienists Association and the American Dental Association state that both can thoroughly and effectively clean your teeth and gums. The determining factor lies more in method than on the type of toothbrush.

Benefits

Given that electric and manual toothbrushes are effective brushing tools, features that equate to benefits are more a matter of personal preference. Many electric toothbrushes have added features, such as a timer that turns the toothbrush off after two to three minutes and pressure sensors that regulate the speed of the toothbrush and ensure you do not use too much pressure while brushing. In addition, an electric toothbrush can be beneficial if you have shoulder or arm problems, such as arthritis, that make using a manual toothbrush difficult.

A major benefit to using a manual toothbrush is cost. The cost of an electric toothbrush can easily be more than $100. In addition, replacement heads are not inexpensive and you need to replace the toothbrush head these every three months just as you do a manual toothbrush. Another benefit to using a manual toothbrush is in the design of the brush. You can purchase a manual toothbrush in a number of styles and brush lengths, and those with flexible handles may make it easier to reach difficult areas of your mouth, especially if you have a very small mouth.

Risks

Using an electric toothbrush is not a guarantee you will have healthy teeth and gums. You must still brush often and correctly to remove all traces of plaque from your teeth. If you brush with a heavy hand, using an electric toothbrush can damage your gums, lead to enamel abrasions or wearing of your tooth enamel, and cause your teeth to become overly sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.

The biggest risk to using a manual toothbrush comes in not brushing long enough. Manual brushing can become tiresome and lead to shortened brushing time. A solution to this is to use a kitchen or egg timer set to the recommended two to three minutes.

Special Circumstances

If you wear orthodontic braces, you may be interested in the results of a study complete in the United Kingdom in 2003 that compared the effectiveness of electric versus manual toothbrushes specific to your situation. Sixty-three orthodontic patients received an electric toothbrush or a manual toothbrush and all received proper brushing instructions. After eight weeks, results showed no difference in the amounts of plaque buildup, bleeding gums or the presence of gum disease between the two groups.

Considerations

No matter which type of toothbrush you choose, the American Dental Association recommends choosing one with an ADA Seal. Manufacturers submit their products for safety, reliability and effectiveness testing and receive the seal only if their products meet ADA requirements (See References 1, 3).

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