Elizabeth Turkenkopf has been using an electric toothbrush for more than seven years, and has been impressed with the results — cleaner teeth and minimal plaque build-up, which translates into less scraping at her regular dental check-ups.
She hasn’t had a cavity since she made the switch from a hand-powered toothbrush, and her gums are in good shape. Although she can’t say for sure her pristine oral health is the result of her electric toothbrush, she’s not messing with success.
It’s your technique — not the toothbrush — that makes the difference. It’s really a matter of preference. And, of course, no matter what brush you use, you still need to floss properly, use a mouth rinse each day, and see your dentist every 6 months.
“Power toothbrushes have come a long way,” says Terrence Griffin, DMD, an associate professor and chair of the department of periodontology at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston.
Your personality, your teeth, or your affinity with technologies may make one type more appealing to you.
Power Toothbrushes: Electric and Sonic
Electric toothbrushes were first introduced in the U.S. in 1960 by a company called Squibb, and marketed under the name Broxodent. Today, there are dozens of different brands available, with a myriad of features, including re-chargeable batteries, compact designs, and bristles built for optimal cleaning.
The two main types of power toothbrushes are electric and sonic — the difference between the two really comes down to numbers.
Electric Toothbrushes: With 3,000 to 7,500 rotating motions a minute, electric toothbrushes are powered to replicate the motion of your hand — doing the muscle work for you. The bristles on these toothbrushes either rotate or move back and forth to help remove plaque and reduce gingivitis.
Sonic Toothbrushes: Offering 30,000 to 40,000 strokes per minute, sonic toothbrushes rotate in a back and forth vibrating motion. The rapid motion is the sonic toothbrushes’ claim to fame. But ultimately, it also aims to remove plaque and keep teeth and gums healthy and clean.
For a little bit of perspective, the old-fashioned way of brushing your teeth rings in about 300 strokes per minute — if you brush properly. So over the two-minute recommended brushing time, your teeth are hit with 600 strokes … a far cry form the thousands you might get with the high-tech variety.
Benefits of Power Toothbrushes
Several studies have shown that sonic and electric toothbrushes are better at reducing plaque and gingivitis, in the short and long-term. For example, a 2003 Cochrane Oral Health Group study concluded that, compared to hand-powered toothbrushing, electric toothbrushes with rotational-oscillation action result in less plaque and fewer bouts of gingivitis. But the study also found that when used properly, manual and powered brushes can be equally effective.
“Electric or sonic toothbrushes may be easier for people with dexterity problems, like arthritis, to handle and control, resulting in cleaner teeth and gums,” says Gary D. Hack, DDS, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore.
Sonic and electric toothbrushes may motivate people to brush regularly by eliminating the “work” of handheld brushing.
The one drawback to power toothbrushing may be cost, Hack says. Most models range from about $15 to more than $100; old-fashioned toothbrushes cost just a few dollars.
Practice Proper Toothbrushing
No matter your toothbrush preference, good technique makes the difference in your oral health.
“You need to brush a minimum of twice a day, for about two minutes each time, every morning and at night before you go to bed to avoid food sitting on your teeth and gums for long periods of time,” says Griffin.
Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to brushing. Hack offers these tips for good toothbrushing technique:
- Angle the brush at about a 45 degree angle up onto the tooth and into gum line.
- Use a soft-bristled brush, and use a gentle brushing motion.
- Don’t over scrub or use too much pressure.
- Make sure you brush every tooth and cranny.
“The most important thing is to brush effectively,” Hack says. “This will help you avoid periodontal disease, minimize gum and bone loss, and keep your mouth healthy and clean.”