Are Electric Toothbrushes Better Than Manual?

Even though dentists tell us that we should all be brushing twice a day for at least 2-3 minutes each time, the average person actually only brushes between 45-70 seconds per day, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. Bacteria left behind on your teeth can increase your risk for cavities, gingivitis, and periodontitis, and even more serious health issues such as plaque buildup in the arteries. And yet, we are creatures of habit, and 2-3 minutes can feel like a VERY long time when brushing. So how can you improve on that habit?

It might be as simple as switching to an electric toothbrush. Although electric and manual toothbrushes can both help keep your teeth clean and your mouth happy, some research suggests that an electric toothbrush has a slight edge over manual. For instance, a review published in the Cochrane Library entitled “Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health” concluded that “Powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing in the short and long term.” The review examined 51 trials involving adults and children brushing with electric or manual toothbrushes for at least four weeks. They found that “there was an 11 percent reduction in plaque at one to three months of use, and a 21 percent reduction in plaque when assessed after three months of use,” and “for gingivitis, there was a 6 percent reduction at one to three months of use and an 11 percent reduction when assessed after three months of use.”

It’s important to note, however, that the differences are minimal, and what seems to work best for some, may not for others. What seems to matter most is actually brushing for 2-3 minutes twice a day, regardless of the type of toothbrush.

Some people that DO see better results with an electric toothbrush:

  • Those with dexterity issues, like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, may find that electric toothbrushes tend to have larger handles than manual, making them easier to hold.
  • If you (or your child) wear braces, the bristles on electric toothbrushes can sometimes be in thinner and pointier clusters, and can deliver the kind of targeted cleaning that can aid them in brushing.
  • Children that are easily distracted may be intrigued by the vibrations and novelty of an electric toothbrush, and therefore brush longer than if using a manual brush. (And if you really want to keep their attention, find one that has a built-in timer!)
  • Those with sensitive teeth may find that they don’t brush as hard with an electric toothbrush, which will help protect against aggressive brushing that leads to gum recession. Some electric brushes even have pressure sensors that freeze the toothbrush’s motion if you’re pressing too hard.

Regardless of which type you prefer, follow these guidelines:

Whichever type of toothbrush you buy, make sure you choose one with soft bristles, according to the American Dental Association. Hard bristles can damage your gums, and even cause notches in the enamel of your teeth. Make sure and look for the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance, meaning they live up to the organization’s standards for safety and effectiveness. 

For both manual and electric toothbrushes, the angle is the same: the ADA suggests holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle against your teeth and gum line, moving back and forth in short strokes, then tilting vertically and making up and down strokes on the insides of your teeth, too. And as mentioned above, make sure and brush 2-3 minutes, twice a day.

Don’t forget to pick up a NEW toothbrush (or electric toothbrush head) every three to four months… as soon as you see the bristles starting to fray. 

And of course, keep your dental appointments, and ask your hygienist if you’ve been brushing and flossing correctly. Regardless of what type of brush you use, it’s the outcome that makes a difference in your dental health!