The ads for electric toothbrushes boast that they remove more plaque than a regular toothbrush. Is this true? Does using an electric toothbrush really make that much difference?
The Oral Health Foundation did a study that showed electric toothbrushes do make a difference. A decade-long study found a 22% reduction in gum recession and an 18% reduction in tooth decay with electric toothbrush users.
Another study resulted in similar findings. Sixty young adults were divided into two groups and assigned electric or manual toothbrushes for six weeks. To qualify, the participants must have good oral health, moderate bleeding when a probe was used, and sufficient dexterity to properly brush their teeth. Dentists examined the participants at the end of the first, second, and sixth weeks. By the end of the study, those using manual toothbrushes had twice the plaque of those using electric toothbrushes.
How Electric Toothbrushes Work
Electric toothbrushes come in various styles and designs, but they use one of two toothbrush heads. Some are round with clusters of bristles in the interior and outer rings. The others are rectangular or oval, like a traditional toothbrush head. They provide different actions.
- Back-and-forth oscillation mimics the motion a manual toothbrush uses with a semi-rectangular head that moves back and forth across the surface of the teeth.
- Circular rotations have the round brush head moving either counterclockwise or clockwise and never changing direction.
- Counter oscillation is a round head, but some of the tufts of bristles move counterclockwise while the others move clockwise.
- Ionic toothbrushes are a newer entry and have a brush head similar to a manual toothbrush, but the device gives off an ionic charge to prevent plaque formation.
- Rotation-oscillation is a round toothbrush head that spins back and forth in half circles.
- Sonic toothbrushes use high frequencies to vibrate the toothbrush’s bristles for effective cleaning.
- Ultrasonic toothbrushes use even higher frequencies to get the bristles to vibrate and effectively break up plaque.
The brush head is one component to consider when choosing the best toothbrush, but there’s also the power source. Batteries power some electric toothbrushes’ motors, and others are rechargeable.
Battery-powered toothbrushes may be less expensive, but you’ll have to pay for new batteries. Rechargeable toothbrushes have a charging base that recharges the lithium battery between uses.
Depending on the toothbrush’s power, the motor may only allow for a few thousand movements per minute or millions of movements per minute. Which is best? Research is ongoing, but several experts believe rotation-oscillation is more effective at cleaning the teeth and gums.
Tips for Buying an Electric Toothbrush
What should you look for when shopping for a toothbrush? Much of this comes down to your personal preference. Ask yourself these questions to choose the right toothbrush for your needs.
Is It Comfortable to Hold?
Comfort is the most crucial consideration. Make sure you like the feel of the handle and how it fits in your hand. If you purchase an electric toothbrush and find it bulky and difficult to hold for two minutes, you’re unlikely to use it properly, if you even use it at all.
Before buying an electric toothbrush, check out display models in stores and feel the handles to find one that fits your hand and feels comfortable. It should be lightweight and easy to grasp. Button placement needs to be convenient to your thumb placement. If your hand cramps up while holding it, try something else.
How Do You Clean It?
Keeping your toothbrush clean is essential for infection control. Washing the handle and toothbrush head helps keep germs away. Is that something you know you’ll do after each use? Some also add UV storage cases and use the power of UV to kill bacteria.
How Much Can You Invest?
If you’re on a budget, you need to limit your selection to those you can afford. When shopping for the best price, look for rebates and sales to help you save money. Be sure you research the cost of replacement brush heads. It would be best to replace the head on your electric toothbrush every three months. If the replacement heads cost $21 for three heads, you’re spending $7 each time. That’s more affordable than replacement heads that are two for $25.
Cheaper isn’t always best, but the most expensive electric toothbrush isn’t always the right fit. Read reviews, look at demo models in stores, and research the oral care features that matter the most.
What Features Benefit You?
Many electric toothbrushes have additional features to clean your teeth and gums sufficiently. Consider models that add features that benefit your lifestyle and oral care habits. For example, you never seem to brush your teeth for the full two minutes. Look for brushes that signal when you’ve spent 30 seconds on each quadrant of your mouth. The toothbrush will buzz when you’ve finished 30 seconds on the lower right, so you know to move to the lower left.
Toothbrushes may pair with apps that provide feedback regarding the areas where you didn’t brush for long enough, enabling you to turn the toothbrush back on to go over the tooth surfaces you missed. Sometimes, those apps award points for proper brushing, and you can cash in those points for replacement brush heads and other rewards.
Do you floss as effectively as you should? A water flosser propels a high-pressure stream of water between the teeth and along the gum line to break up and remove plaque. These toothbrushes are newer, but a flossing electric toothbrush is beneficial if you’re often told you should floss more. The downfall is that the water line for the toothbrush is connected to the water reservoir, so you can’t move far when you’re brushing your teeth.
What cleaning settings are available? Many electric toothbrushes have settings for different cleaning routines, including tongue scraping, whitening, regular cleaning, and sensitivity. If you have sensitive teeth and gums, a standard cleaning setting can be painful and prevent you from using your new toothbrush. Look for models with sensitive settings.
Does your dentist warn you about brushing too hard? Look for electric toothbrushes with pressure sensors that monitor how hard you brush. If you’re pushing down too hard, an audible alert goes off, or the toothbrush pauses to get you to stop.
Ask Your Dental Team for Advice
Dentists and dental hygienists work with patients all day long and have exceptional insight into what works best and what isn’t as effective. If you’re considering an electric toothbrush, ask for input. A smaller jaw may mean a round head fits better than a larger, traditional brush head.
Knowing where you commonly don’t brush thoroughly helps. If you’re often missing the back lower corner of your molars, a smaller brush head with a decent extension enables you to reach that area better. Your dental hygienist knows what mouth areas are most problematic for you and points you in the right direction.
Remember That Electric Toothbrushes Are Not a Substitute for Regular Dental Visits
Even the best electric toothbrush won’t remove every speck of plaque. Everyone has hard-to-reach areas or grooves where plaque hides. It’s imperative that you see a dentist for regular exams and cleanings. What do you do if you’re too anxious to go?
The fear of a dentist is not uncommon. Around four out of ten people experience dental anxiety. You’re not alone. We understand and work with you to ensure your cleaning and examination go smoothly. Talk to Dr. Jody Jones’ team about sedation dentistry and techniques that make your visits to our office stress-free.