Are electric toothbrushes better?

5 mins
23 Feb 2023
Phineas, Perry the Platypus and Ferb brushing their teeth

A dentist weighs in on the manual versus electric toothbrush debate

image Phineas and Ferb / Disney XD

words Megan Wallace

Looking for the kind of pearly whites that could put any Love Islander's veneers to shame? Or a smile that could launch a thousand ships? Well, whether or not you've taken the teeth whitening plunge, you've probably been thinking a lot about oral care and how to get those gnashers squeaky clean. An age-old question in the pursuit of megawatt molars, apart from "should I floss?" (short answer: yes), is "are electric toothbrushes better"? We'd love to answer that for you but, well, we're not exactly dentists. You know who is though? King of smiles and cosmetic dentist Dr Richard Marques, who was kind enough to weigh in on the bristly topic of the day.

So, without further ado, here's a dentist's take on whether electric toothbrushes are better for all things tooth-related.

Are electric toothbrushes better?

Before we get into the specifics, let's get the main question on our minds firmly out of the way. Are electric toothbrushes better, then? "Both manual and electric toothbrushes are great tools for cleaning your teeth, tongue and gums well. However, electric toothbrushes do clean your mouth more efficiently and promote improved dental hygiene," says Marques.

Okay, good to know. But what makes electric brushes so great? "The benefits of using an electric toothbrush include built-in timers and higher effectiveness at clearing plaque. It can also result in healthier gums and less tooth decay, allowing people to keep their natural teeth longer than those who may use a manual toothbrush."

What he's saying has been backed up in research, too. A 2021 study comparing the plaque index score of 1184 patients using either manual or electric toothbrushes found that the latter was better at eliminating plaque. There's also an 11-year cohort study from 2019 which showed differences in manual and electric toothbrush outcomes over a lengthier period, showing that those who opted for electric brushes had 19.5% more teeth retained than the manual toothbrushers.

Okay, so do electric toothbrushes clean more deeply, then?

So, yes, one of the best things about electric toothbrushes is they offer a more tip top clean. But why? According to Marques, it's because they offer greater speed - which is more effective for washing off that plaque and any left-over food and drink. "Electric toothbrushes do provide a more thorough clean as they move faster than the speed of your hand thus decreasing plaque build-up," he explains. "Also, removing a higher amount of food, drink and bacteria in your mouth than a manual toothbrush."

But copping an electric toothbrush isn't an excuse to start slacking on your oral hygiene. "Manual or electric, the most important things regarding tooth brushing are to ensure that you are brushing for two minutes at least twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing or using an interdental brush once a day."

Do you seriously still have to floss if you use an electric toothbrush?

As has already been stated above (read the fine print, people) you need to keep on keeping on with your flossing routine - no matter what type of brush you use. "Everyone should be flossing at least once a day, whether they use a manual or electric toothbrush. Using an electric toothbrush cannot replace flossing," says Marques. "Flossing daily is crucial to ensure that leftover food is being correctly removed from between your teeth and gum line - flossing gets to areas of the teeth and gums that an electric toothbrush cannot reach."

But are electric toothbrushes suitable for receding gums?

On the topic of gums, are electric toothbrushes actually safe for people with receding gums? Is there any danger of it aggravating the problem? Well, as Marques attests, electric is actually better than manual in this instance, since we can be quite hard on our gums when we use normal brushes. "Electric toothbrushes are actually gentler on the gums than manual toothbrushes. This is because an electric toothbrush is set to one speed and pressure," he adds. "However, with manual brushing, the individual can use a speed and pressure that is too harsh for the gums. Thus, electric toothbrushes would be recommended for a patient suffering from receding gums."

And, finally, are there any drawbacks to using electric toothbrushes?

Now you know all the good that electric toothbrushes have to offer, it's time to take stock of any downsides of the tools. For Marques, these mostly lie with cost or logistical factors. "Some drawbacks to be aware of regarding electric toothbrushes include the cost as some can be expensive, as well as the repurchase of toothbrush heads every three months (the same timeframe in which you should be changing a manual toothbrush)," he explains.

"There is also the upkeep as they do need to be recharged or new batteries inserted regularly," he adds. However, there is an alternative to all this constant recharging - brands like Foreo, best-known for its silicone facial cleansing brush, offer long-life toothbrushes which can survive for up to 265 days from a single USB charge.

And if you're concerned about sustainability issues when it comes to electric toothbrushes, worry not! When you think about it, using one electric brush over a prolonged period, rather than constantly replacing manual brushes, definitely contributes to less waste. And you can even get more eco-friendly electric toothbrushes, such as those offered by the brand SURI, which produces toothbrushes and bristles made from recycled materials.

So there you have it, smiles all round!

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