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17 June 2021

Is an electric or manual toothbrush best for oral hygiene?

You brush your teeth twice a day for a simple reason. It’s to remove plaque (the sticky film of bacteria from food) over your teeth and therefore prevent teeth and gum disease. But will an electric toothbrush remove plaque as well as a manual one? Which one is the best tool to maintain your oral hygiene?

Clinical trials prove that electric toothbrushes are better in removing plaque than manual toothbrushes. However, not everyone needs to use an electric toothbrush. In fact, I use a manual toothbrush too! Many of my clients have been using the manual type for decades and have learnt great technique. So I tell them to stick to what has been working for them. Before you head out and change your toothbrush, I always recommend speaking to your dentist / dental hygienist about a solution that would be suited for you.

Using a manual toothbrush to brush your teeth is generally fine—as long as its soft bristled and you use good technique. An electric toothbrush is a good alternative if you can’t use a manual one. For example, young kids or old adults, people with disabilities and those with arthritis could experience difficulties with manual brushes. In those cases, an electric toothbrush’s bristle movement helps remove more plaque or food from your teeth and improve your gum health.

The main reason that electric toothbrushes are better at preventing tooth decay and gum recession is that they do most of the work for you. The movement and power of the rotating brush head loosens the plaque. This means you’re less reliant on a perfect technique. We also find that the smaller circular heads of the electric toothbrushes means you can get to the back molars and the back of the lower front teeth more precisely. That’s the spot where most plaque builds up.

We see many clients who ‘scrub’ their teeth using manual toothbrushes and wear the enamel and gums away (recession). For these clients, I also highly recommend moving to an electric. Many electric toothbrushes these days also auto stop if you are brushing too hard. Also they have timers that sound after two minutes to help choreograph your clean.

How your choice impacts your oral hygiene

Whichever toothbrush you choose, the best way to keep your teeth in their top shape is to stick to good oral hygiene habits. That involves flossing your teeth at least once a day and brushing twice a day. That action of using a brush (or floss) against all the surfaces of your teeth stops plaque from building up. And every six months, make sure you pop in for a check-up and clean to get rid of any nasties you’ve missed.

Another thing to think about is choosing a soft-bristled toothbrush. Even though it seems like a medium or hard one will remove more plaque, a soft one will cause less damage to your tooth enamel. Also remember to replace your manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every three months or after you’ve been sick. And finally, clean your tongue while cleaning your teeth. Your tongue can hold bacteria which can lead to bad breath.

Should kids use electric toothbrushes?

The best sort of toothbrush for kids is one that they actually want to use. Sometimes they like the motion of electric toothbrushes. Sometimes they find them fun and exciting, especially if they play music or they feature their favourite character. Other kids might find an electric toothbrush uncomfortable or loud. They may prefer the back-and-forth action of using a manual toothbrush.

My advice is to let them experiment! Let them work out which one they’re comfortable with. And let them choose their own on a trip to the chemist or supermarket. If they feel they’ve chosen it, they’ll be more inclined to use it every day.

While the whiz-bang electric brushes may stand out, you’ll find that there are a wide range of manual options. Something there will grab your child’s interests. Children are more likely to develop and maintain good dental hygiene routines when they enjoy brushing their teeth.

It’s also important to book a check-up and clean with the dentist for children twice a year. They can take a look at your child’s teeth and ensure they’re brushing their teeth properly.

Final verdict

With the correct brushing technique, both manual and electric toothbrushes are fine at removing plaque. But electric toothbrushes with oscillating heads are the best for cleaning and protecting from gum disease. Particularly if you have something that stops you from using the right technique.

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