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Electric vs. Manual - Which Toothbrush Is Right For You?

electric vs manual toothbrush

The evolution of the toothbrush has come a long way since the use of boar bristles and horse hair, with nylon bristles and plastic handles becoming a standard in the late 1930s. Yet, the basic design of the manual toothbrush has remained a constant, still proving itself to be an effective tool today.


Options for tooth brushing were somewhat scarce in the early twentieth century, but the 1960’s brought a new invention - the electric toothbrush.

Now, more than 3,000 toothbrush patents exist, however the main contenders in oral hygiene are still the manual and the electric toothbrush. Both are effective in maintaining good oral health, but the key is how well you use them. Have you ever wondered if you’re using the right toothbrush for your teeth and if you’re using it correctly? Here are a few tips on which type you of brush you should be using for some common oral health issues:

Plaque removal

Removing plaque to prevent tooth decay and gum disease is the main purpose of brushing your teeth, so no matter what type of toothbrush you use, it needs to be effective in this area.
Both manual and electric toothbrushes have long been accepted as effective methods to remove plaque when used twice daily and correctly, which is why it’s important to ask your orthodontist or dentist to demonstrate ideal brushing techniques to you.

Electric toothbrushes have been clinically proven to remove plaque better than a manual toothbrush - most notably in hard to reach areas - which can help fight gum disease. If you already have issues with decay or gum disease and are using a manual toothbrush, switching to an electric toothbrush could help improve your oral health.

Manual Toothbrush vs Electric Toothbrush Ease of Use

Technique is one of the most important factors in brushing your teeth, as effectiveness can vary depending on how brushing is done.

With a manual toothbrush, brushing at a 45-degree angle, starting at the gum line and moving in a gentle circular motion is ideal. Choosing the right size and shape of toothbrush is also important as you need to reach the very back of your teeth without causing damage or pain to your gums. The smaller heads on electric toothbrushes can make it easier to get to those hard-to-reach angles at the back of your mouth.

With electric toothbrushes, you can let the brush do most of the work while you slowly move it over the surface of each tooth. Because of this simple operation, people with arthritis or dexterity issues can find it less challenging to use an electric toothbrush. Children can also benefit from the use of an electric toothbrush if their motor skills are not developed enough to make circular motions and reach every tooth with a manual toothbrush.

To avoid damaging your gums and wearing away enamel, brushing gently is important, regardless of what type of toothbrush you use. Remember to read the instruction manual that comes with your electric toothbrush as the optimal brushing technique can vary by model.

Timing of Toothbrush Use

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I advise my patients to brush for at least two minutes twice daily to maintain a good level of oral hygiene.

While manual brushes do a great job when used properly, studies have shown that people tend to brush for shorter periods of time with a manual brush—likely because there’s no way to tell how much time has passed.
An hourglass timer can be a useful way to help both children and adults brush for the correct amount of time, however, an advantage of electric toothbrushes is that they typically come with a built-in timer that will buzz or beep when you’ve reached the two-minute mark. Some models will signal at 30 second intervals for each quadrant of your mouth and others even have timer displays that provide feedback on your brushing technique.

Use of Toothbrushes With Braces

Yes, you can use an electric toothbrush with braces! In fact, studies have shown electric toothbrushes promote better oral hygiene for patients with braces.
Electric toothbrushes work well for patients with all types of orthodontic treatment; from metal, ceramic, and lingual braces to clear aligners, since they can be removed for brushing. The key is to find an electric toothbrush with a smaller head and soft bristles. Apply gentle pressure, allowing the brush to do the work, and proceed carefully around brackets, wires and bands. Remember to brush above and below the braces to get to the teeth and gums.

Manual toothbrushes are still an effective option for patients undergoing orthodontic treatment since its essential to brush after meals and keep your teeth and braces clean.

Cost Electric vs Manual Toothbrush

Whatever option you choose, you should be changing your toothbrush or brush head every three months, or when the bristles are warped, to maintain proper hygiene standards. Similarly, if you have been ill, you should switch out your brush as soon as you’re feeling better. This turnover frequency raises the issue of cost, as buying at least 4 toothbrushes a year for a family can slowly add up.

For the most affordable option, a manual toothbrush is the way to go. Depending on the brand and features, they can range in price from $2 to $8 which makes them an ideal choice for an effective oral care routine that can be renewed every three months without breaking the bank.

The initial investment in an electric toothbrush can range from $20 to $200 according to the features you want, so switching from manual can be a significant decision and it’s advisable to research the different models available to find an electric toothbrush that meets your needs. Additional brush heads can cost between $5 and $10—although many electric toothbrushes come with one or two head replacements at purchase.

Deciding on which type of toothbrush to use is a personal choice, depending on the needs of your teeth, your dexterity and your budget. Typically, the tooth and gum issues I see in my practice are rarely related to whether a patient has an electric or manual toothbrush, and have more to do with their brushing technique, duration of brushing and how often they brush.

For both manual and electric toothbrushes, it’s important to choose a brush with soft bristles and to be gentle while brushing to avoid gum damage or recession due to trauma from the bristles. Always read the instruction manual on electric toothbrushes for the correct brushing method and ask your orthodontist or dentist to demonstrate if you’re unsure.

About The Author
Dr. Gregory Ohanian, DDS, MS is a member of the California Association of Orthodontists and an orthodontic specialist at GO Orthodontics in Pasadena, CA. He received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the University of Southern California, and completed his Orthodontic Residency at Columbia University in New York City.