Manual vs. Electric: The Battle of the Brushes

All toothbrushes are created equal, or so I thought before I tried an electric powered model last year.  Maybe it’s in my head, but I can’t help but feel that my teeth get cleaner when I use the powered version during my daily oral hygiene routine.  Did I mention that since I started using an electric toothbrush, I haven’t had a cavity and my routine visits to the dentist have been pleasant, with minimal scraping required? But is it truly the toothbrush I choose that’s making the difference? Many consumers wonder which type of brush is best, electric or “hand-powered,” so I set out to discover the truth.  Here’s what I found.

According to the WebMD feature article, “Electric Toothbrushes: Are They for You?,” the electric toothbrush was introduced in the United States in 1960 by a company called Squibb.  The first model, “Broxodent” pales in comparison to the latest technology, which boasts features such as rechargeable batteries, compact designs, and bristles built for optimal cleaning.  There are two major varieties of power toothbrushes: electric and sonic.  Electric models offer 3,000-7,500 rotating motions a minute and are meant to replicate the motion of brushing by hand.  The bristles on this type either rotate or move back and forth to help remove plaque.  Sonic toothbrushes offer an astonishing 30,000-40,000 strokes per minute with a rotating, back and forth vibrating motion, also meant to remove plaque and keep teeth and gums healthy.  Just to compare, consider that if you’re brushing the “old-fashioned” way, or by hand, if brushing properly one can expect to achieve approximately 300 strokes per minute.  Obviously, electric and sonic brushes are far superior than brushing by hand, right? Perhaps not.

There have been several studies conducted on the effectiveness of sonic and electric toothbrushes, and the majority have found favorable results with the high-action, technologically advanced versions.  For example, in 2003, the Cochrane Oral Health Group concluded that the use of electric toothbrushes resulted in less plaque and fewer gingivitis diagnoses.  But, researchers also found that when using proper technique, manual brushing can be just as effective.  According to Gary D. Hack, DDS, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Dental School, electric or sonic toothbrushes may be easier for folks with dexterity problems, such as arthritis, to handle and control, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.  So, if you’re like me and just have a small affinity for technology, or prefer to eliminate the “work” of handheld brushing, an electric brush may be right for you.  If the cost is a deterrent (some sonic brushes can cost more than $100), or you’re simply “old-fashioned,” a manual brush can be just as effective.  But don’t forget, in order to achieve the best oral health possible, good brushing should be combined with daily flossing and regular visits to your dentist.  Happy brushing!

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