Should I Use an Electric Toothbrush or a Manual Toothbrush?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

There are plenty of electric toothbrush styles on the market. Some are very expensive, and others, relying on battery power instead of a rechargeable power station for the toothbrush, are now much less expensive. The electric toothbrush that is solely battery powered may cost between $5-10 US Dollars (USD) or even less if you buy these in bulk from stores like Costco®. Conversely the manual toothbrush is cheaper, tends to be easier to clean, and is a bit more portable for traveling. So which is better?

A study shows that rotation-oscillation toothbrushes are more effective than other electric or manual toothbrushes.
A study shows that rotation-oscillation toothbrushes are more effective than other electric or manual toothbrushes.

If you have limited mobility issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis or advanced multiple sclerosis, it may be harder to brush you teeth with a manual toothbrush. Brushing teeth thoroughly requires two minutes of your time, and lots of action from arms, wrists and fingers. With an electric toothbrush, you’re likely to have to do less physical work in order to clean your teeth. Furthermore, limited mobility suggests that most people who use a manual style won’t brush their teeth as thoroughly or as long as needed, particularly if it’s painful to do so.

A manual toothbrush is simple and easy to use as long as a person has full mobility of their hands.
A manual toothbrush is simple and easy to use as long as a person has full mobility of their hands.

For the person who is not experiencing limited mobility problems, there’s a slight, and some say negligible difference between a manual and electric toothbrush. In fact a study performed by the University Dental Hospital in Manchester found only one type of electric toothbrush that works better than correct manual brushing. These were toothbrushes with rotation-oscillation, where the head uses short bursts of speeding spins in both clockwise and counterclockwise action.

Someone with multiple sclerosis may have difficulty brushing his or her teeth with a manual toothbrush.
Someone with multiple sclerosis may have difficulty brushing his or her teeth with a manual toothbrush.

Even with this type of electric toothbrush, differences in results weren’t huge. Rotation-oscillation brushes appeared to be 17% more effective at preventing gum disease. They also removed about 7% more plaque. Of the other electric toothbrushes tested, all were roughly equal, essentially no better or worse than manual toothbrushes.

Manual toothbrushes tend to be cheaper than electronic ones.
Manual toothbrushes tend to be cheaper than electronic ones.

If you are at risk for gum disease, or you do tend to accumulate a lot of plaque, using electric toothbrushes with rotation-oscillation heads may be for you. The most common brands to have this feature are Braun&reg:, and Oral-B®. You can go for the more expensive versions of these, or spend about $10 USD to get a battery powered one.

For those who are not suffering from limited mobility, and who have good gum health, and less plaque buildup, a manual toothbrush is a fine choice, or an inexpensive battery powered one. Just remember that choice of toothbrush doesn’t preclude you from getting twice yearly dental checkups and cleanings. These are just as important as regular at-home brushing.

Using an electric toothbrush may help remove debris from deep below the gum line and prevent tooth decay.
Using an electric toothbrush may help remove debris from deep below the gum line and prevent tooth decay.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Jennifer99

Personally, I am a fan of electronic toothbrushes. My teeth feels cleaner after using them rather than the manual ones. My personal favorite is the rechargeable toothbrush designed by the product design firm Spark Innovations. And manual toothbrushes are also made of plastic so it cannot be called eco-friendly.

jholcomb

I think that the ecological impact is important to consider. Electric toothbrushes take more plastic and more energy to manufacture. So unless you really need an electric toothbrush, either because of limited mobility or because you have dental problems, I think you should go with manual -- it's more ecologically friendly.

Not to mention cheaper! I like to buy the inexpensive four-packs of soft-bristled manual toothbrushes. That way I always have a replacement handy every three months, plus spares for forgetful guests.

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