These days, there’s a “smart” version of just about everything, from kitchen appliances to lightbulbs to cars (and beyond). In a world where technologically advanced alternatives are everywhere, it can be tough to decide which ones are nice-to-haves and which ones really have a positive impact on your life.
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First invented in 1954, electric toothbrushes experienced a boom in the early 2000s. Now, they’re more popular than ever. But do they really make a difference in cleaning your teeth?
Actually, yes: Electric toothbrushes are generally considered more effective at removing plaque and keeping teeth clean than manual toothbrushes. Dental hygienist Denise Stepka, RDH, weighs in on the pros and cons of using an electric toothbrush.
Electric vs. manual toothbrush
Studies show that electric toothbrushes do a better job of cleaning your teeth than manual toothbrushes do, which can help prevent cavities and gum disease.
But let’s back up for a second. Brushing your teeth is all about getting rid of plaque and debris. But why, exactly? Plaque is a sticky film that forms on your teeth and produces acid, which can break down tooth enamel and cause cavities and tooth decay. Plaque can also irritate your gums and cause gingivitis, an early stage of gum (periodontal) disease. If it’s not removed, plaque can harden into tartar, which can only be removed by a dental professional.
Electric toothbrushes, which are typically powered by a rechargeable battery, use electricity to move a small brush head at high speed. “This rapid movement removes plaque and debris from your teeth and gums,” Stepka explains.
There are two main types of electric toothbrush technology:
- Oscillating-rotating technology means the brush head spins and rotates as it cleans. This was the first kind of electric toothbrush to hit the market, and a 2005 study was the first to show that it cleaned better than manual brushes.
- Sonic technology uses ultrasound and sonic waves to vibrate as you brush. Some models use Bluetooth to send information about your brushing habits and technique to a smartphone app, helping you improve your brushing over time.
Benefits of electric toothbrush
Overall, using an electric toothbrush can be a good way to improve your oral hygiene and help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
“I’ve seen patients who have had difficulty with home care have an overall decrease in plaque, tartar and stain when using an electric toothbrush,” Stepka says. “I think it’s a combination of the brush being more effective and patients brushing for longer because of the two-minute timers that many of these brushes have.”
Here’s what electric toothbrushes offer:
- A more reliable clean: “Electric toothbrushes can produce thousands of strokes per minute to remove plaque from your teeth,” Stepka explains. “Your manual toothbrush, meanwhile, works only as fast as your own hand.”
- Specialized features: Many electric toothbrushes have built-in features like timers and pressure sensors to help you brush properly and for the recommended amount of time. Some offer multiple brushing modes, which can be helpful for people with sensitive teeth or gums.
- Ease of use: “Because electric toothbrushes do most of the work of brushing for you, they’re sometimes easier to use for people who have limited dexterity or hand mobility,” Stepka says.
Risks of using an electric toothbrush
As with just about everything, there are a few potential downsides to consider. The main risk of usual an electric toothbrush, Stepka says, is the same as the main risk of using a manual toothbrush: The possibility that you might brush too hard.
“You might think that brushing harder equals getting your teeth cleaner, but brushing too hard can actually wear at your tooth enamel and your gums,” Stepka warns. Yikes! But the pressure sensors on some models of electric toothbrushes can be a good way to make sure you’re not doing this kind of damage when you brush.
Some other downsides:
- Cost: Electric toothbrushes are more expensive than their manual counterparts and require new brush heads every three months or so, which adds to the overall cost of ownership.
- Discomfort: Some people find the sensation of the brush moving in their mouth to be uncomfortable or off-putting. This may be especially true if you have sensory processing issues.
- Electricity: It may sound like a no-brainer, but electric toothbrushes require electricity to operate! This means they may be inconvenient or even impossible to recharge if you don’t have access to a reliable power source, like during travel.
Should you use an electric toothbrush?
Electric toothbrushes can certainly work wonders for your overall oral hygiene. But if this kind of purchase isn’t in the cards for you right now, don’t fret.
“You don’t need to have an electric toothbrush to clean your teeth effectively,” Stepka says. “A manual brush will do a great job if used properly and for the two-minute recommended brushing time.”
Always select a toothbrush with soft or extra-soft bristles, and try to find one with a relatively small brush head so that you can more easily reach behind your last molars.
Not sure whether you’re brushing quite right? Don’t hesitate to ask your dentist, periodontist or dental hygienist for guidance. They’ll be happy to help you, er, brush up on your technique so that you can keep plaque and tartar at bay.