Are electric toothbrushes better for keeping your teeth and gums healthy? Years of research and mounds of studies still leave science divided on this seemingly simple question. So, what do the experts -- like dentists, orthodontists, and dental hygienists -- have to say about the debate?

On the surface, it may seem like the ease and convenience of an electric model is the best choice. But are we being fooled by the appearance of efficiency?

Let's dive into the details of both electronic and manual toothbrush options, list the pros and cons for each, and draw conclusions based on the trails of evidence. Without really looking at the evidence, you may end up wasting both your time and money with the wrong kind of toothbrush.

If you're concerned about your oral hygiene and your dental health, it pays to pick the best toothbrush you can find.

Are Electric Toothbrushes Better?

Electronic or electric toothbrushes are short, notched toothbrush heads that connect to a motorized, battery-charged handle. In action, the motor rapidly vibrates while rigorously rotating the bristled head to clean your teeth and gums.

You'll find a wide variety of electronic and electric toothbrush styles on the market. Most electronic toothbrushes have different sized heads and different motion ranges. And each style operates differently and provides different motion-specific benefits. Common types of electric toothbrushes include:

Sonic

A sonic electronic toothbrush uses fast bristle motions to remove plaque, bacteria, and stains from your teeth and the gum line. Sonic toothbrushes make up to 50,000 movements per minute.

Ultrasonic

Ultrasonic electric toothbrushes use a high-frequency sound vibration, rather than bristles, to clean your teeth and gums. Most ultrasonic toothbrushes make around 2.5 million movements per minute.

Pulsing motion

Electric toothbrushes with pulsating bristles connect with each tooth to remove any plaque and or stains on and around it. Pulsing electric toothbrushes often come with silicone bristles, which can add the benefit of optimal bacteria control. Pulsing toothbrushes may also be most suitable for sensitive teeth and gums.

Rotating motion

The head of an oscillating rotation toothbrush is small and round. These small round bristled heads remove plaque from each tooth individually by using clockwise circular motions.

Counter-oscillating motion

Counter-oscillating electronic toothbrushes look similar to an oscillation toothbrush, but the bristles move differently. The bristles on a center-oscillating toothbrush move in contrasting directions for extra scrubbing power.

Rotation and oscillation motion

Rotation and oscillation toothbrush heads are the same small and round heads found in rotating toothbrushes. You'll see the added benefit of rotating oscillating toothbrushes in the movement function. Rotation oscillating electronic toothbrush heads turn in one direction, followed by the opposite direction to cover any missed area on a tooth.

Side-to-side motion

While side-to-side electric toothbrushes work similarly to a manual toothbrush, the machine provides the brushing power, rather than the human. Side-to-side toothbrush bristles quickly shift from one side to another side. The fast movement can help remove plaque from teeth and gums more quickly and thoroughly.

Dual-head or dual-motion

Electronic toothbrushes with dual heads pair a rotating head with a side-to-side head on a single toothbrush.

Electric Toothbrush Pros and Cons

Are electric toothbrushes better? Let’s investigate the pros and cons of electronic toothbrushes to find out. We'll start with the good news about electric toothbrushes by outlining the advantages, followed by the disadvantages.

Pro: better at removing plaque

Some research shows that a high-quality electric toothbrush removes more plaque than manual toothbrushes.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of International Society of Preventive and Community Dentistry concluded that using an electric toothbrush is more effective in removing plaque buildup and improving the condition of gums.

Not all electronic toothbrushes are created equally, however. Studies have shown that rotating and oscillating toothbrushes outperform side-to-side or vibrating toothbrushes.

Pro: an easier brushing option

The only actions involved when using an electric toothbrush are applying toothpaste and hovering the head over teeth and gums.

The simplicity of electric toothbrushes makes it an excellent option for those with impaired mobility. Individuals suffering from arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome may prefer to use electronic toothbrushes over a manual toothbrush.

It's simply easier and more comfortable.

Pro: timing function

A big problem many people face with brushing their teeth is that they aren’t cleaning long enough. Brushing for two solid minutes can adequately remove plaque and bacteria from the surface of the teeth and along the gumline. But many people are unable to judge exactly how long that can be.

Electric toothbrushes have an edge on manual toothbrushes. Many of them come equipped with a timing function. Some electric toothbrushes can signal you when it's time to start cleaning the next section of your mouth. And some will even switch off after two minutes of brushing to let you know you've finished.

Using a timed electric toothbrush can make it easier to make sure you've cleaned your teeth properly.

Pro: engages children

Getting children to brush their teeth regularly can often feel like pulling teeth. However, giving them an electric or electronic toothbrush can help.

Many children find brushing their teeth pretty tiresome. Sometimes, their fine motor skills aren't well developed enough to do an adequate job. An electric toothbrush provides more comfortable brushing in a fun package.

Electric toothbrushes for kids are large enough to display favorite animated characters on the base, which can help motivate your child to brush more often.

Pro: helpful with braces

Most people find that brushing their teeth around braces can become pretty complicated. For some, a manual toothbrush cleans around braces sufficiently.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. Electric toothbrushes can improve brushing quality for those who wear braces or other dental appliances. Improved brushing quality leads to an overall improvement in their oral hygiene.

An electric toothbrush can take some of the tedium out of the stringent dental care required with braces.

Pro: safe to use

When used properly, electric toothbrushes are safe to use. They're gentle on tooth enamel and gums.

There are two sides to every coin. Now we will discuss the less-than-good news about electric toothbrushes.

Con: price

Electric toothbrushes can come at a steep price when compared to the $1 to $5 price tag found on most manual toothbrushes. The initial cost for an electric toothbrush costs between $20 to $200, on average. This cost covers a few replacement heads, the motor, and an electric charging dock.

As with manual toothbrushes, the disposable head needs replacing about every three months.

Prices for replacement heads are usually reasonably priced. Sometimes you can even save more by purchasing them in bundles. But after the upfront costs, some consumers don’t find electric toothbrushes all that cost-effective.

Con: finding replacement heads

Investing in an electric toothbrush also means committing to a specifically sized head attachment for the base motor. Finding replacement heads that fit your machine isn’t always an easy task. That's because each brand and model only match their company's proprietary attachment head.

The internet provides options for finding the specific brush head. However, shipping takes time. So, replacing an electric toothbrush head might require more planning than a casual trip to the local drugstore for a manual toothbrush.

Con: the sensation

Not everyone can appreciate the sensation caused by brushing with an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes create vibration in the mouth that some people find unsettling. Some users grow accustomed to the feeling with time.

However, many others abandon their electric toothbrushes for good because of the discomfort.

Con: travel limitations

Very few travelers want to lug around a relatively large toothbrush when they're on the road. If your travel lasts more than a few days, you'll have to carry around the base, too. That means it's vulnerable to damage during transit, as well as increasing the weight of your luggage.

Besides, electric toothbrushes can pose problems when you're traveling to countries that use different outlet types and voltage.

Are Manual Toothbrushes Better?

Your manual toothbrush is a small and lightweight bristled tool made from plastic, wood, bamboo, or other materials. The maker designed it to help clean your teeth and gums.

You'll find manual toothbrushes in many shapes and sizes. And the bristles offer many different configurations, designed to address specific areas of your mouth.

Manufacturer's categorized manual toothbrushes by the stiffness and texture of the bristles. You can purchase manual toothbrush bristles in the following textures:

  • Extra soft
  • Soft
  • Medium
  • Hard or firm

Dentists recommend using soft-bristled toothbrushes. Soft-bristled toothbrushes are gentle on your tooth enamel and gums. Not surprisingly, many people mistakenly believe that harder toothbrush bristles will remove plaque more efficiently.

However, medium, hard, or firm bristles can erode your tooth enamel and cause damage to your gums.

In addition, the gentle bristles found on extra soft toothbrushes might be the safest and most comfortable choice for people with sensitive gums or gum disease.

Manual Toothbrush Pros and Cons

Are electric toothbrushes better? Or are manual toothbrushes better? The truth is, both have their pros and cons. So, let's break it down. Here, we'll discuss the pros and cons of manual toothbrushes, beginning with the advantages.

Pro: price

You'll find manual toothbrushes inexpensive to buy and replace.

Pro: easy to find

Finding a toothbrush in a pinch rarely poses any problems. You'll see them sold everywhere from supermarkets, drugstores, to gas stations. In fact, you can even find them in vending machines.

Con: room for error

Unlike electric toothbrushes that hover over the surface of teeth and gums, you apply manual toothbrushes directly to the teeth and gum line. So, rough brushing can cause damage to tooth enamel and gums.

For the most part, the motion you use to brush your teeth with a manual toothbrush impacts how much plaque it removes.

Con: timing

Another problem with manual toothbrushes is knowing when you've been brushing your teeth long enough. The built-in timer found on electric toothbrushes is an attractive feature that keeps your brushing time on-track.

Some people find setting a stopwatch on their phone helps to keep time when using a manual toothbrush.

Choosing Between Electric and Manual

Are electric toothbrushes better? Some studies say yes, while others say no. Many dentists agree that when used correctly, both electric toothbrushes and manual toothbrushes can provide the plaque removal needed for oral health.

Are electric toothbrushes better for people with mobility issues, children, and those who aren’t brushing long enough? For most users, the answer here is yes. Using an electric toothbrush makes brushing easier for anyone who struggles with brushing teeth for whatever reason.

The fact is:

For most adults, using a manual toothbrush is enough to maintain good oral hygiene. If the sensation caused by an electric toothbrush is bothersome, or if price and convenience are important to you, a manual toothbrush might be the better option for you.

Ultimately, the choice between a manual or electric toothbrush is yours to make. The most important thing is that you are taking good care of your oral health.

Which do you choose -- manual or electric? Tell us about your choice in the comments! Oh, and book your next cleaning here at Your Caring Dentist Group, we've got electric and manual toothbrushes for your convenience and comfort.

Featured Image: CC0, by Pixabay, via Pexels

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