Choosing a Toothbrush: Manual vs. Electric

People often ask “Which is better-a manual or electric toothbrush?”  The answer depends on your preference and dental requirements. The ADA says manual toothbrushes can be just as effective as powered ones. The key to preventing tooth decay, say experts, lies in the way a toothbrush — electric or otherwise — is used.

An electric toothbrush spins at 6,000 to 30,000 strokes a minute.  No human is capable of powering a manual brush at that speed, and the ADA recommends that you brush for two minutes at least twice a day.  This feature is advantageous for individuals who are unable to easily use a manual brush.   Instead of constantly moving your hand or arm for two minutes, an electric toothbrush only requires light, steady pressure to be effective.

Individuals with arthritis or movement disorders may find that an electric toothbrush improves their brushing ability by reaching more tooth surface area, and allowing them to brush longer.  Many toddlers enjoy using an electric toothbrush more than a manual one, and some electric toothbrushes are equipped with a two minute timer to let you know when you’ve brushed long enough.

Electric toothbrushes are able to provide a massage for the gums.  This is beneficial for people with gingivitis or gum disease.  Massage increases blood flow to the gums, which provides healing to any injured or infected tissue.  Electric toothbrushes with the ADA seal also provide increased plaque removal capabilities.

Electric toothbrushes can be expensive, and can be viewed as an investment if you’ve had extensive restoration of your teeth.  They also take up counter space with stands, chargers, and accessories.  They often don’t fit into a standard toothbrush holder, and they have the recurring expenses of replacement heads and batteries (portable toothbrushes).  Toothbrush heads need to be replaced every three months and after illness, and many dentists suggest brushing lightly with a manual toothbrush for the first few days after oral surgery.

Manual toothbrushes can be just as effective at cleaning your teeth as electric toothbrushes.  Proper technique needs to be followed, which includes thoroughly brushing every surface of your teeth at a 45 degree angle for two minutes, at least twice a day, with soft bristles.

Manual toothbrushes are easily replaceable, portable, and are free from the noise and vibration of electric toothbrushes.  The vibrations produced by electric toothbrushes can be painful to those individuals with sensitive teeth, and the noise will sometime scare young children.

Manual toothbrushes fit easily into a toothbrush holder, and can be disinfected with toothbrush sterilizers that use ultraviolet light.

Most users of manual toothbrushes who have switched to electric ones report feeling that their teeth feel cleaner after using an electric toothbrush.  Dentists seem to agree, since an 80% improvement was reported in an ADA study of patients switching from manual to electric toothbrushes.  The dentists included in the study seemed to believe that electric toothbrushes provide more cleaning in less time.

If you have healthy teeth and gums, a manual brush is fine.  If you have gums that need extra attention, or difficulty using a manual brush, an electric toothbrush may provide a solution.  You should always schedule regular dental cleanings with your dentist.