woman brushing teeth
Dr.Michael Richer

Doctor of Dental Surgery

Graduated from the State University of Buffalo with a Bachelors in Biology

Graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry

Ranked among the Top 10 Dental Schools in North America

Are Electric Toothbrushes Really Better than Their Manual Counterparts?

There’s a lot of buzz (excuse our pun) about electronic toothbrushes these days, but are these gadgets really the best thing for your teeth? Considering how new power brushes are relative to the field of dentistry, there is still a lot of research to be done on the subject.

Electric brushes have been around in one form or another since the 1960s, but their features and looks have changed quite a bit since the original. The American Dental Association still says that manual brushes can be just as effective if used properly, but many dentists claim that electric brushes are the way to go. How do you choose?

Let’s take a deeper dive into the world of manual and automatic toothbrushes to see what the right choice truly is. We will discuss some history behind the toothbrush, some of the top electric toothbrushes and their features, and how to decide what’s right for you.

The Toothbrush: A History

As we know it, the toothbrush was not invented until 1938. However, findings suggest that early forms of the toothbrush have been in use since 3000 B.C. Because of the age of the early forms of the toothbrush, we will probably never know who came up with the idea.

In 1498 the Chinese invented the bristled toothbrush, but rather than the nylon bristles we are accustom to, they used hair from the back of a hog’s neck and attached it to bone or bamboo handles. Boar bristles were used until 1938 when DuPont de Nemours introduced the nylon bristles we still use today.

American companies did mass-produce toothbrushes before nylon bristles were commonplace, but most Americans didn’t use them. In fact, many Americans didn’t brush their teeth at all until soldiers returning from World War II returned with their disciplined hygiene routine.

The first electric toothbrush to be released on the market in America was the Broxodent. Squibb released it in 1960. However, the first real electronic toothbrush was produced in 1939 in Switzerland.

After the introduction of Broxodent, General Electric introduced a rechargeable, cordless brush in 1961, and in 1987 Interplak was introduced as the first rotary action electrical toothbrush for home use.

Top Electric Toothbrushes

As you can see, the toothbrush evolved rather quickly from its modern conception in the late 1930s. Since then, manufacturers have been fighting to put our brushes with the latest and greatest technology to maximize dental health benefits and win the hearts of dentists across the country.

There are a couple of different types of electric toothbrushes to consider, so for those companies vying for the attention of dentists and the American Dental Association, the first decision is whether their toothbrush will be electric or sonic.

Sonic vs. Electric

For many of us, when we think of electric toothbrushes, we think of the sonic variety. Sonicare brand, for instance, is one of the most popular brands of automatic toothbrush out there. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the sonic technology in the brush is all it’s cracked up to be.

The main difference between sonic and electric toothbrushes is their brushes per minute (bpm). Sonic brushes are able to get to around 30,000bpm where electric toothbrushes typically range from 2500-7500bpm. Manual toothbrushes typically end up at about 300bpm, and that really depends on who is using them.

Sonic brushes also reach further than most electric brushes since the movement they create extends about 1/8 inch beyond the physical length of the brush head. This movement is thought also to be able to help use the liquid in the mouth while brushing to help remove plaque from hard to reach places like between teeth.

Brand Wars: Oral-B vs. Sonicare vs. Everyone Else

A quick Google search, a survey of friends with electric brushes, or a question to your dentist will likely all elicit the same answer: there are two major brands out there when it comes to electric toothbrushes, and those are Oral-B and Sonicare.

Although there are plenty of other brands of electric toothbrushes, these two seem to dominate the market. These two brands are often found at the top of “best brush” lists across the Internet and beyond, and for a good reason. These brushes have been shown in clinical trials to be the best of the best at removing plaque.

Although there are a wide variety of styles and features within each of these brands, for instance, both carry a children’s toothbrush, there are some fundamental differences between the top toothbrushes in each brand.

In a study on the Braun Oral-B brush and the original Sonicare brush, Sonicare was shown to be superior in reducing inflammation caused by gingivitis, but both brushes showed great strength in improving oral health in adults suffering from periodontitis.

Oral-B’s top selling brush is the Pro 1000. This toothbrush claims to remove 300% more plaque along the gums than a manual toothbrush. Sonicare claims to remove ten times more plaque beyond any regular electric toothbrush, while increasing gum health seven times better. Sonicare brand is the pricier of the two brands, though.

Don’t take our talking about Sonicare and Oral-B here as a dismissal of all other brands. There are great options out there. Just make sure you are reading reviews and checking out the features we will discuss below to see which one is right for you or your family members.

Features of a Great Brush

Now that we know what the best brands are for electric brushes, what are some features to look for when shopping for this type of toothbrush? Make sure that the brush you buy is convenient to use and user-friendly.

These days many electronic toothbrushes are rechargeable, but some are still battery powered. Deciding which way to go is up to you, but the most cost-effective option is the rechargeable brush. If you travel often, you may also want to consider whether or not your brush comes with a travel cover or case.

Most brushes feature 2-minute built-in timers so that you are sure always to get your full two recommended minutes of brushing. Some even come with a pulse every 30 seconds that is there so that you can spend equal time working on each quadrant of your mouth.

If you are willing to pay a little bit more for a brush, you can get features like increased intensity, charging level display, a gum massage or stimulation setting, and even variations in how the brush heads vibrate or rotate as they clean. One model even comes with a water flosser attached for the ultimate convenience.

Make sure that you don’t get so lost in the advanced features that you forget the basics, like angled or uneven bristles to help achieve the greatest plaque removal. You also need to consider the expense of buying new brush heads when your bristles fray, since this is still necessary, just like it is with a manual brush.

What’s Right for Me?

Picking the correct toothbrush is all about getting the facts to make an informed decision. The right brush for you depends on the features you are interested, how often you travel, and what kind of power source is most convenient.

You will also want to consider matters of design, like how the handle feels, or the weight of the brush itself. People with mobility issues benefit from the use of electric brushes because the brush is able to clean without extra work by the individual. However, you will want to ensure the handle is ergonomically sound.

Children often benefit from the timers on electric toothbrushes, since they are just learning to brush their teeth, and they may need guidance on how long is long enough in each area.

Finally, consider your toothbrushes’ style. We know this isn’t something you think about very often, but many electric brushes end up sitting out on a bathroom counter and are then seen by guests. If aesthetic is important to you, you may want to consider a brush with a more stylish look to it.

The Wrap Up

Studies show that electric brushes are easier to use and remove plaque better than manual brushing. Although the American Dental Association hasn’t officially stated that electric brushes are the way to go yet, many dentists see them as excellent tools to assist you in keeping your teeth clean and healthy at home.

Whether or not you trade in your manual model for a shiny new electric brush is up to you. Remember to use a soft bristled brush twice a day, and take your time to ensure each tooth gets the proper care. If you do that, you will be well on your way to excellent dental health in the future.

Michael Richer

Graduated from the State University of Buffalo with a Bachelors in Biology

Graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry

Ranked among the Top 10 Dental Schools in North America

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