Manual vs. Electric Toothbrush: Finding the Best Option for Your Oral Health

A manual and an electric toothbrush laying down on a blue background

When it comes to protecting your oral health, your toothbrush is the first line of defense. Brushing your teeth is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to take care of your health, because without it, everything else you do–including flossing and rinsing–will be less effective. 

When you brush your teeth, you’re removing the sugars, food particles, and bacteria that can contribute to cavities, acidic damage, enamel wear, and infection. You’re also preventing sticky plaque from building up into harmful tarter, which requires a professional teeth cleaning to remove and can cause gingivitis and gum disease.

Brushing your teeth isn’t complicated, but it has become a business, and companies spend a lot of time and money advertising toothbrushes and oral products that promise to deliver exceptional results. From wavy toothbrush heads zig-zagged bristles to soft grip handles and powerful buzzing action, the options are virtually endless. Amid all the commercial cacophony, how are you supposed to know which toothbrush is right for you?

Generally speaking, the best toothbrush for you is one you will use. For most people, these are toothbrushes with soft bristles–since firm ones can be too hard on the enamel and lead to damage–as well as smaller heads, since they are more effective at cleaning hard-to-reach areas such as the sides of the final molars. 

From there, however, the decision becomes dicey–an electric toothbrush, or a manual? Let’s break it down.

Everything About Electric Toothbrushes

Electric toothbrushes, also called “power toothbrushes,” feature an oscillating or vibrating bristled head powered by a motor inside the handle. Many dentists recommend electric toothbrushes, but using them the wrong way could lead to problems with the gums, so it’s important to educate yourself on the right way to use one so you are optimizing your oral health instead of compromising it.

Pros of an Electric Toothbrush

  • Provides better, more precise cleaning than manual brushing. The automatic movement of the toothbrush head is configured to properly address the curvature and shape of the teeth, so on average, people brush more of their teeth’s surface when using an electric toothbrush.
  • Great for children and people who have trouble brushing properly. Some electric toothbrushes can be programmed to play a chime when the proper amount of brushing is done. This encourages people to brush for longer, while the combination of longer brushing with the multi-directional movement of the bristles produces a more comprehensive clean.

Cons of an Electric Toothbrush

  • Can use too much force when brushing. Those who are prone to brushing hard and aggressively can actually see some gum recession when using electric toothbrushes because the toothbrush is already applying sufficient force on its own.
  • Can be expensive, both initially and over the long term. This includes either batteries or the cost of electric charging as well as head replacements.

Types of Electric Toothbrushes

There are three primary options when selecting an electric toothbrush: sonic, oscillating, and rotary. 

  1. A sonic toothbrush uses vibration to lift plaque and debris from the teeth. 
  2. Oscillating toothbrushes move back and forth across teeth.
  3. Rotary brushes spin in a circular direction. 

All of these work similarly well, so which one you choose comes down to personal preference. In most cases, rotary brushes will have the smallest heads.

How to Brush Properly with an Electric Toothbrush

Proper technique with an electric toothbrush is important to keep from damaging your teeth and your gums.

First, rest the bristles on each tooth, then gently move the toothbrush head in a circular motion so that it reaches the entire tooth’s surface. 

Then, move the head to the back of the tooth (and sides, as applicable) and do the same. 

Move on to the next tooth and repeat the process.

Do not drag the brush head back and forth across your arch of teeth; this is the behavior that can lead to gum recession due to brushing too hard. 

Everything About Manual Toothbrushes

Manual toothbrushes are essentially your “traditional” toothbrushes. They contain no electronics, but brushing technique is equally important for best results.

Pros of a Manual Toothbrush

  • Affordable
  • Simple to use
  • More options. Both the brush heads and the toothbrush neck come in a wide variety of shapes, orientations, and sizes, making manual brushes more accessible for a diverse range of people. 
  • Don’t need to charge
  • Easily transportable

Cons of a Manual Toothbrush

  • May not clean as well. In general, with average use, a manual toothbrush will not get teeth as clean as an electric brush. This is because most people do not brush properly; instead, they drag the bristles back and forth horizontally across the teeth and gums. 
  • May not remove as much plaque or debris. A manual toothbrush does not benefit from any vibration advantages that can help to loosen debris on the teeth.

Types of Manual Toothbrushes

Manual toothbrushes vary primarily in the orientation of their bristles. In studies, zig-zag bristles have been found to be more effective than flat bristles, but each person’s dentition is different, and what works for one individual may not be a good fit for another.

How to Brush with a Manual Toothbrush

Using a manual toothbrush properly can produce results similar to what an electric toothbrush can achieve. To properly brush with a manual toothbrush, be sure to:

Hold the bristles at a 45 degree angle with the gums.

Brush in short, circular movements. This ensures the bristles come into contact with as much of the tooth’s surface as possible. 

Work on one tooth at a time, brushing all sides individually.

Do not “saw” back and forth on your teeth across the arch; this contributes to gum recession and enamel wear.

Manual vs Electric Toothbrush: Which is Best?

The best kind of toothbrush is the kind you will use. Studies indicate that based on average user skill, an electric toothbrush produces better results than the manual alternative. However, if you dislike electric toothbrushes because they make noise or feel uncomfortable, it is smart to acknowledge that you feel this way and purchase a manual toothbrush instead.

Those who have no preference can benefit from electric toothbrushes, but be sure to practice proper technique to avoid damaging the teeth. You can also ask your dentist which type of brush head is good for your dentition, since those with misaligned teeth or certain dental issues may benefit more from certain bristle orientations or electronic options (e.g., rotary vs. sonic).

Investing in a toothbrush that fits your usage style and dentition makes checkups easier, too. By properly taking care of your teeth, you’ll get to spend less time with the dentist because they’ll have less plaque to scrape away. Your gums will also likely bleed less, and you’re less likely to have cavities in need of filling.

In the end, whether you choose a manual toothbrush or an electric one doesn’t matter—what matters is whether you use it. Select a toothbrush that is most appealing to you so that brushing becomes a normal part of your daily routine.

Taking Care of Your Toothbrush

Regardless of what kind of toothbrush you choose, taking good care of it ensures it’s doing the job properly without jeopardizing your oral health.

When you’re done using your toothbrush each time, use warm water to rinse it thoroughly. This removes the bacteria you’ve cleaned from your teeth as well as any leftover toothpaste. Your toothbrush should air dry in an upright position to prevent the growth of unwanted organisms.

The machine part of an electric toothbrush, which houses the battery or power box and motor, can be gently wiped down with a cleaning cloth if it becomes dirty.

You’ll also need to replace your toothbrush from time to time. At a minimum, your toothbrush should be replaced every three months. For manual toothbrushes, this means replacing the entire toothbrush, while electronic options have removable heads that you can replace. 

You should also replace your toothbrush if:

  • The bristles become frayed, bent, broken, or falling out. Frayed or broken bristles are less effective at removing plaque from your teeth.
  • Your teeth don’t feel clean after brushing
  • You’ve been sick recently. Replacing the toothbrush prevents reinfection.
  • It smells bad. This could be caused by mold or bacterial growth that you don’t want introduced into your mouth.
  • You can’t remember the last time you replaced it
  • You’ve been storing it in a travel container. The warm, moist environment of a travel container is the perfect place for bacteria to breed.
  • It’s touched someone else’s toothbrush or someone else has used it. You run the risk of picking up someone else’s bacteria.

Trust Your Oral Health to the Toothbrushing Pros at Dental Depot of Oklahoma

At Dental Depot of Oklahoma, we don’t believe taking care of your teeth should be stressful. That’s why we take a commonsense approach to oral care with solutions that work and services you can afford, including dental cleanings and checkups. Our experienced and friendly team of dental professionals can also help you determine which products are right for you and which ones you can skip, so you can make sure your oral hygiene routine is helping your health, not hurting it. 

With multiple locations across the state and industry-leading facilities designed for your whole family, Dental Depot of Oklahoma makes it easy for you to receive the dental care you need. Find the office nearest you and schedule your appointment today!

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