Ever since electric toothbrushes were invented in 1939 (this might be disputed) the question has lingered, are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes? Are they just an expensive gimmick or are they really more effective?
And following on from this: Do you then choose soft, medium or hard bristles? Small or big head? Plastic bits and Diamond-head shapes? Tongue cleaners? Where do you even start to decide on what’s best?
Well, we’re here to take out the guesswork for you and give you our best recommendations for your next toothbrush purchase. In our eyes, it only boils down to two options: a soft-bristled manual toothbrush versus an electric toothbrush.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of a manual versus an electric toothbrush (one we deem good enough) and find out if one is better than the other at removing plaque!
Pros of Manual Toothbrushes
- Available everywhere
- No batteries needed
Manual toothbrushes have been around since 3000 B.C! (Well, twigs with frayed ends anyway…) Because of their long history, there’s so many options to choose from. These days, you can get different bristle hardness (soft is the best), head sizes/shapes, and some even come with a nifty tool on the back of the head to help keep your tongue clean!
With a manual toothbrush, you can also control how softly you brush which can be really helpful if you suffer from sensitive teeth and gums. This is a double-edged sword though, because you can also brush too hard…
Cons of Manual Toothbrushes
- You can brush too hard
- No awesome features like a 2-minute brushing timer
- Most head sizes available in supermarkets are too big
- Potentially less effective at removing plaque
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as ‘over-brushing’. When you use a manual toothbrush, you can brush too hard which can be bad for your teeth and gums in the long run. Over brushing can cause your gums to shrink, exposing the root surfaces of your teeth, making your teeth sensitive and more prone to tooth decay. And gums don’t grow back once they’re gone…
Since manual toothbrushes aren’t built with a timer, this also means you’re less likely to brush for the whole 2 minutes that’s recommended by dentists and backed by years of research.
Pros of Electric Toothbrushes
- 2-minute brushing timers
- Soft, small maneuverable heads
- Pressure sensor (make sure you buy a model with this feature)
- Variable settings
- Potentially more effective at plaque removal
Prices of electric toothbrushes can range from $16 to $350! And with many things in life, you kinda do get what you pay for. So for the purpose of this blog, we’re only looking at ones with a built-in 2 minute timer, a pressure sensor, a head that oscillates in a 3D circular and back-and-forth motion, is rechargeable and has variable speed settings. It’s these features that can make the investment really worth it!
These electric toothbrushes are made by Oral-B/Braun and you can find these features in brushes from around $100. We currently do not recommend sonic-type electric toothbrushes as there is little evidence that they are more effective than manual toothbrushes.
In saying all of that, one of the best things about an electric toothbrush is that they do a lot of the work of toothbrushing for you! Win! To be exact, 3D oscillating electric toothbrushes were recently found to reduce plaque by 21% compared to a manual toothbrush according to a huge study by the Cochrane Collaboration. Available here.
If you apply too much pressure while brushing (see above about “over-brushing” in the cons of manual toothbrushes section), a built-in pressure sensor will activate and alert you! This is an absolutely essential feature for so many people, because we all want that “dentist-clean” feeling after brushing our teeth. But that can lead to the gums being traumatised, shrinking and never growing back!
Cons of Electric Toothbrushes
- Cost (investment)
- Brush heads are more expensive
- Needs to be recharged
As mentioned above, prices of electric toothbrushes can get pretty high up there, which means if you ever lost or misplaced one, you’re probably going to cry.
Finding the right replacement brush heads also may not always be easy since some supermarkets might not have the exact type you’re after. That’s pretty rare though.
Some people also find the vibrations of the electric toothbrushes a bit unsettling or uncomfortable. If you really need to use an electric toothbrush because of the pressure sensor for example, then I’d recommend you persevere.
Can Children Use Electric Toothbrushes?
Yes! Children can use electric toothbrushes! Nowadays, kids electric toothbrushes are super fun, easy to handle and the built-in timer makes sure that they brush their teeth for the recommended 2 minutes. Throw in the fact that most of the kids electric toothbrushes have their favourite superheroes or movie characters on them and it can mean a big boost in healthy brushing habits for kids!
Manual or Electric?
At the end of the day, if a manual brush is what you prefer and what you’re most comfortable with, then that’s what you should be using. The most important thing in keeping healthy teeth and gums is actually brushing your teeth everyday, twice a day, for two minutes. Of course, just make sure you’re using a soft-bristled one.
But, if you’re like me and want your mouth to feel 21% cleaner, by all means, buy an electric toothbrush! I also over-brush (as told by my dentist) so having that pressure sensor as a safeguard gives me peace of mind my gums are in safe hands.
Jasmine Ooi BPharm
Dr. Grant McGrath BDSc