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Electric vs. Manual Toothbrushes: Are Electric Toothbrushes Better?

Electric toothbrushes have continued to gain popularity over the past several years. One reason behind this could be constant efforts by electric toothbrush manufacturers to create new features and innovations and thereby causing a buzz around their products. Another (and probably more grounded) reason is that the differences between electric and manual toothbrush cleaning results are becoming more clear.

Electric toothbrushes have been around for almost 100 years, and scientists have had enough time to research and compare the cleaning effectiveness of all kinds. If you’re wondering if you should switch to an electric toothbrush, but aren’t sure if it’s worth the investment, the TestHut team has created a toothbrush showdown for you!

Manual vs electric toothbrush

After gathering facts from scientific research, talking to professionals, and testing a lot of electric toothbrushes, here is what we found!

Cleaning effectiveness

Of course, the most important thing about toothbrushes is their cleaning performance. During our research, we discovered that both electric and manual brushes can effectively clean your teeth on the condition that both are used with appropriate cleaning techniques. So why is there so much hype about electric toothbrushes?

Although both can do the job, electric toothbrushes do the job better. Key results from multiple studies conducted over the last 50 years argue that electric toothbrushes reduce plaque by 21% more if you use one every day for at least three months [1].

One reason behind this is the rapid movements of electric toothbrushes that users simply cannot replicate with a manual brush. Depending on the brushing speed, you can achieve up to 250 strokes per minute with a manual toothbrush. For comparison, Sonic electric toothbrushes offer from 30,000 up to 62,000 brush head movements in a minute. Of course, we don’t know if you really need thousands of movements to complete the task, but you get the idea.

In another study, German researchers from the University of Greifswald concluded that not only electric toothbrushes are more effective, but they also help retain more teeth throughout your lifetime [2]. The thing is, electric toothbrushes do more than reduce plaque—they help to reduce tooth abrasion and gum diseases, such as gingivitis. They also help to achieve a better cleaning routine by motivating you to brush for at least 2 minutes; they guide you through the session and offer other helpful features.

Myth or reality: Electric toothbrushes can hurt teeth and gums

One of the biggest myths that prevents people from switching to electric brushes is that they think the powerful movements of electric toothbrushes can cause tooth abrasion and/or gum recession. Not only this is a myth, but in reality, you are more likely to damage your teeth with a manual brush by using an improper cleaning technique [3]. When brushing your teeth with a manual toothbrush, more cleaning force is used, but as a result less plaque is removed than when using an electric toothbrush.

Although the majority of researchers stress that electric toothbrushes are gentler, academic opinions about this topic are not in complete agreement. One study argues that if patients with increased gingival abrasion and recession want to use an electric toothbrush, they should choose sonic brushes over oscillating ones [4]. Round movements of oscillating brushes can be too harsh on your gums, while Sonic brushes move back and forth without doing any harm. Furthermore, some electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors, which helps to reduce the force that users may apply on teeth by pressing too hard.

Electric toothbrush Oral-B Genius X pressure sensor

Does this mean manual toothbrushes are to blame? Not really. If a manual toothbrush is used correctly, no damage should occur. But if you are struggling with gum recession and can’t seem to adjust your cleaning technique, Sonic electric toothbrushes can be used as a treatment to prevent further recession. Still, you should always ask your dentist what is the best solution for your problem.

Building healthy habits

Some of you may struggle with maintaining a healthy oral routine by cleaning twice a day for 2 minutes and making sure every corner of your mouth gets the attention it needs. Multiple studies have determined that if users can meet these professional recommendations, they will have healthy teeth, but unfortunately, only 25.2% of people succeed in this task [5].

Electric toothbrushes can help to develop healthy habits and stick to a consistent oral hygiene routine. Nowadays, 2-minute timers and pacers are a must-have for an electric toothbrush; these features will help you to keep track of your session length and even guide you through it.

Some electric brushes include compatible mobile applications to motivate and guide you. While this is something you should consider before rushing to buy (because these smart features come at a higher price), in a way, the brush itself is also motivating. We all know that new gadgets are intriguing and exciting.

Finally, it takes less motivation to get up and go to the bathroom to brush your teeth, simply because you know you won’t have to do the vigorous brushing yourself.

And since the electric toothbrush does most of the work for you, it also makes the cleaning process easier for children, the elderly, and people with limited mobility.

Advantages of a manual brush

While it sounds like we are starting to praise electric toothbrushes, there are still some aspects that powered brushes can’t beat including price, accessibility, and simplicity.

Manual vs electric heads

Price

Even budget electric toothbrushes can’t compete with manual brushes regarding price. While you can buy a good manual brush for a few euros, a decent electric brush will cost over 17 pounds just for the handle, but the prices vary from 17 to 250 pounds.

But do electric toothbrushes pay off in the long run? Not directly. You still have to change brush heads every three months, and most of them are a little more expensive than manual brushes.

However, when you purchase an electric toothbrush, you pay for effectiveness, quality, and ease-of-use. It may lead to better oral health in the long term, especially if you’re struggling now.

Accessibility

While you can get a new manual brush pretty much anywhere, electric toothbrushes are not that accessible, especially if you’re used to buying new brushes at your local grocery store.

Although some electric toothbrush brands have started to sell their devices and replacement brush heads in supermarkets, drug stores and department stores, it’s not like you are going to buy a new electric toothbrush if you forgot yours at home while traveling. Of course, you can always replace your electric brush with a manual brush for a few days in a scenario like this.

Another thing you may experience with electric brushes is that you always have to be sure your toothbrush is charged, especially if you’re traveling for an extended period. You may need to bring a charger which takes up extra space. In addition, electric brushes are typically bulkier than manual brushes.

It is no surprise that another electric appliance means another gadget for you to charge and keep track of the battery life. To make things easier for you, electric toothbrush manufacturers are creating more precise battery indicators.

Are electric toothbrushes a replacement for professional cleanings?

While you really do get the feeling of a professional cleaning with a good electric toothbrush, you still have to floss and make regular appointments with your hygienist. Powered brushes will help you to achieve better oral care results, but no device is going to remove 100% of the plaque.

A build-up of dental plaque can lead to tartar, tooth decay, and other problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis. As we already mentioned, electric toothbrushes can remove up to 21% more plaque compared to manual brushes, so in theory, you can visit a professional less often, but it is still necessary.

Another frequently asked question is do electric toothbrushes whiten your teeth? And again, the answer is not really. Electric toothbrushes can remove stains effectively and therefore make your teeth look whiter, but they won’t whiten your natural teeth colour. That can only be done by professionals.

In fact, you can also remove stains with manual brush, with whitening toothpaste, and with whitening kits, but none of these will actually change the colour of your teeth.

Conclusion

All in all, both brushes—manual and electric—perform well if you’re brushing right and doing it regularly. Electric toothbrushes do have a lot of advantages but be aware that they don’t pay off directly. Electric toothbrushes are an investment in your oral hygiene and health; they ensure better results and help you to build healthy habits. Just like manual, electric toothbrushes also come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, so make sure you find the best brush for you.

Sources

  1. Yaacob M., Worthington H.V., Deacon S.A. et al. (2014). Brushing force of manual and sonic toothbrushes affects dental hard tissue abrasion.
  2. Kocher T., Pitchika V., Pink C. et al. (2019). Brushing force of manual and sonic toothbrushes affects dental hard tissue abrasion.
  3. Wiegand A., Burkhard J.P.M., Eggmann F. et al. (2013). Brushing force of manual and sonic toothbrushes affects dental hard tissue abrasion.
  4. Baruah K., Thumpala V.K, Khetani P. (2017). A Review on Toothbrushes and Tooth Brushing Methods.
  5. Ganss C., Schlueter N., Preiss S, Klimek J. (2009). A Review on Toothbrushes and Tooth Brushing Methods.

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