If you or your kids don't use an electric toothbrush, are you giving your teeth the best care you can? Will going electric mean less plaque and less chance of needing a filling?
Not necessarily. While there is evidence that brushing with an electric toothbrush can reduce the build-up of plaque on the teeth and its associated oral health risks compared to a standard toothbrush, not everyone will benefit from making the switch.
Here's what the evidence says and the main pros and cons of electric vs. manual toothbrushes for kids and adults. Talking to your dentist could help you decide whether you could benefit from a change to your oral hygiene routine.
What does the evidence say?
There have been many studies comparing manual and powered toothbrushes for maintaining oral health. In 2014, Cochrane Oral Health Group completed a systematic review of evidence from 1964 to 2011 involving more than 5,000 participants. They found that electric toothbrushes did perform significantly better.
According to the review, electric toothbrush users showed a 21% reduction in plaque and 6% reduction in gingivitis (gum disease) after three months of use, compared to those who used a manual toothbrush.
This suggests that switching to an electric toothbrush improves oral health considerably, but the evidence is only considered to be of moderate quality. That's because it doesn't specify the types of people who particularly benefited from a powered toothbrush and lacks data on the long-term impact to dental health.
Most dentists agree that a manual toothbrush can be just as effective at reducing plaque, tooth decay and gum disease when you use a good brushing technique, but different toothbrushes are better suited to different people. Your dentist can advise you about which is the best fit for you or your family.
Benefits of electric toothbrushes
Electric toothbrushes use an oscillating or rotating motion that helps to loosen plaque from the surfaces of teeth, in a similar way to the back and forth motion of standard toothbrushing.
An electric toothbrush can make cleaning your teeth easier, because the rotating brush head does most of the work for you. As well as being more convenient, this can make an electric brush especially useful for people with limited dexterity, such as those with arthritis.
Many children also benefit from an electric toothbrush. If your child has started to brush their own teeth, but they find it hard to use a standard toothbrush, their dentist may recommend trying an electric brush to lower their risk of tooth decay.
Electric toothbrushes can also be more appealing to kids than standard brushes, especially models that play sounds or music to make brushing more fun. Some include timers or have associated apps that encourage kids to brush for the recommended two minutes and may offer other guidance.
Some people with sensitive teeth and gums may also benefit from electric toothbrushes with pressure sensors. These alert the user if they're brushing too hard.
Benefits of manual toothbrushes
Many people prefer the greater control of movement and pressure that manual toothbrushes offer. They may also not like how an electric toothbrush feels or sounds, or may consider it an unnecessary expense when a manual toothbrush is cheaper.
A wider choice of toothbrush heads and shapes makes manual toothbrushes the more versatile option. Manual toothbrushes are also more convenient for travel, as they're smaller, lighter and don't need charging.
Kids who are just starting to brush their teeth by themselves could find a manual brush easier to use and control, unless their dentist recommends a powered toothbrush.
How to choose the right toothbrush
The best type of toothbrush depends on the individual and may be recommended by your dentist.
Whether you prefer manual or electric, most people are suited to a small toothbrush head with medium bristles. You may need soft bristles if you have very sensitive teeth or gums. Hard bristles should be avoided unless advised by your dentist, as they could scratch the tooth surfaces if you brush roughly.
Young children should use a smaller kids' toothbrush designed to fit their mouths. They should use this until the age of 6 or 7, by which time their dentist may advise moving up to a standard toothbrush.
The right way to brush your teeth
Whichever kind of brush you use, it's important to follow a good brushing technique to keep your teeth clean and plaque-free. Dentists recommend:
- Brush twice a day, ideally before breakfast and before going to bed
- Brush for two minutes, spending 30 seconds in each quarter of your mouth
- Use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste (low-fluoride toothpaste for young children)
- Brush using small circular movements with a manual toothbrush (an electric toothbrush does this automatically)
- Clean the front, back and chewing surfaces of all teeth
- Gently brush your tongue to remove bacteria
- Don't swallow any toothpaste
- Don't rinse your mouth after brushing, so some fluoride can remain on your teeth for protection
- Replace a manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every three months or after an illness
More ways to care for your teeth
Brushing is just one part of a good oral hygiene routine. To lower your risk of tooth decay and gum disease, kids and adults should also:
- Floss your teeth once a day to clean the surfaces your toothbrush doesn't reach
- Avoid food and drink with a high sugar or acid content, as this contributes to decay
- Eat a balanced diet with good sources of calcium, phosphorus and vitamins
- Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated and rinse away bacteria
- Make appointments with your dentist for a regular check-up and clean
Want more advice? Talk to a dentist in Brisbane
If you want to know how to take better care of your oral health or your child's, make an appointment at your local Face Value Dental clinic in Brisbane. We have locations in Brisbane CBD, Albert Street, Albany Creek, Helensvale and Toowong.
Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, Deery C, Walmsley AD, Robinson PG, Glenny AM. Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD002281. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD002281.pub3.
Healthdirect. Teeth cleaning [Online] 2018 [Accessed February 2020] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/teeth-cleaning