Which kind of toothbrush do you use, manual or electric? The debate on whether manual or electric toothbrushes are better at cleaning your mouth has been a point of contention in dozens of studies over the decades, but we’re here to settle the age-old debate: which toothbrush is best for you?
But first, a brief history of bristles:
Ah, the toothbrush. That irreplaceable tool helping humans keep our teeth clean and healthy for millennia. Well, in some form or fashion, at least. You see, the first “toothbrush” was nothing more than a chewing stick, a thin twig with a frayed end used to scrub against the teeth. Evidence of these dates back as far as 3000 BCE in Egyptian tombs.
To us, though, we’re most likely to recognize the toothbrush created by China’s Tang Dynasty in 1498, although that toothbrush was made from boar bristles and put on a bone or wooden handle. Slowly this style of toothbrush filtered into the West and by 1885 the mass production of toothbrushes began in America.
Boar bristles were used all the way up until 1938 when nylon brush bristles were invented. Following WWII, Americans were influenced by the hygiene habits of disciplined soldiers and became more diligent with their oral health care habits.
Meanwhile, the first “electric” toothbrush was produced in the US in 1927. However, it really just had iron rods inside the handle that shook when you brushed to make it vibrate. So it wasn’t until the 1960s that commercial electric toothbrushes became available. Innovations continued and in 1992 the first ultrasonic toothbrush was patented in the US.
Pros & Cons: The Many Virtues of the Manual
The manual toothbrush is, of course, a staple of any bathroom counter. But what, exactly, are the merits of using a manual toothbrush? And where does it fall short when compared with its electric competition?
- Manual toothbrushes are cheap, if not free.
- They come in all shapes, sizes, bristles and brush head styles.
- If you lose it, drop it, or forget in your suitcase, no worries! They’re easy to replace.
- Don’t worry about charging or changing batteries, you power this toothbrush.
- Manual toothbrushes rely on you having good brushing habits.
- They don’t have timers so you may not be brushing as long as you think you are.
- Manual toothbrushes can be difficult to use effectively for people with dexterity challenges.
Pros & Cons: Is the Future Electric?
The electric toothbrush has come a long way in the last thirty-or-so years. Today, consumers have a wide variety of options available to them (of course, we’re fans of the Oral-B Genius). But is an electric toothbrush better for you?
- Electric toothbrushes have an assortment of head movements, including; circular, rotation oscillation, counter oscillation and side-to-side.
- They make brushing easier for people who struggle with dexterity, such as children, older adults and those with disabilities.
- Typically, only the head needs to be replaced, so you can keep using the same handle for years to come, and heads come in a variety of types so you can pick one that best suits your needs.
- Most electric toothbrushes have built-in timers to help you brush the full two minutes recommended by the ADA.
- An electric toothbrush is going to cost more than a manual toothbrush. Most electric toothbrushes carry a price tag within the $25-$100 range.
- On that note, replacing a lost or damaged electric toothbrush is going to set you back, so take good care of it.
- Cheaper electric toothbrushes are usually battery operated instead of rechargeable. They also tend to lack features found on their more expensive counterparts, such as non-replaceable heads and fewer brushing modes.
So, which is better?
The ADA makes it clear that no matter what toothbrush you’re using; you should use the following guidelines to get the most benefit from brushing:
- Brush your teeth for two minutes, twice a day.
- Replace your toothbrush bristles or head every 3-4 months, or more often if the bristles become frayed.
- Only purchase toothbrushes that carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance to make sure you’re using a toothbrush that is both safe and effective.
- Use soft-bristled toothbrushes. They clean just as well as medium- and hard-bristled toothbrushes, without damaging your gums.
And while the ADA’s official stance is that both manual and electric toothbrushes are effective, 56 studies reviewed by the Cochrane Collection, an international evidence-based research organization, found that electric toothbrushes have an edge over manual toothbrushes.
The report showed electric toothbrushes reduced plaque 21% more and reduced gingivitis 11% more than their manual counterparts after three months of use. Specifically, electric toothbrushes that use rotation oscillation showed the greatest reduction in both plaque and gingivitis. And do you know which toothbrush pioneered rotation oscillation? That’s right, Oral-B.
So, if you have good brushing habits, you’re probably okay to use a manual toothbrush. For the rest of us though? You just might find your smile thanking you for making the switch to electric.