Are electric toothbrushes REALLY better than manual toothbrushes?


Our experts weigh the pros and cons of each type of toothbrush.

Many patients don’t realize just how important it is to use the right toothbrush. They typically rely on the sample they get after their 6-month dental visit or pick up a cheap option at their local grocery store. To them, all toothbrushes are basically the same, and they don’t see a reason to invest in an electric version.

While using a manual brush is, of course, better than nothing, many oral health care professionals want their patients to make the switch to electric. These brushes help ensure patients get their mouths as clean as possible-reducing their cavity risk and the likelihood they’ll develop gingivitis.

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“I can typically tell when somebody uses an electric toothbrush versus a manual toothbrush just by looking at their oral health,” says Sarah Thiel, RDH, CEO and co-founder of CE Zoom. “Their gums look amazing, and I don’t have to do a lot during the appointment.”

Patients also can tell the difference when they switch to electric, Thiel says, but they won’t experience the benefits unless you provide them with the proper education and guidance. Once they understand what it can mean for their oral health as well as their overall health, most patients will be happy to make the extra investment in their smile.

Why your patients should go electric

Electric toothbrushes offer patients a variety of advantages, no matter their oral condition, says Tina Clarke, RDH. These brushes do the work for them, with many even featuring a timer to ensure patients brush for a full two minutes, as well as a pressure indicator light to let patients know when they’re brushing too hard and possibly damaging their gums. Clarke describes it as brainless brushing; all patients have to do is move the brush from tooth to tooth, whether they’re using Phillips Sonicare brushes that penetrate deep below the gum line to disrupt the bacterial environment or round Oral-B brush heads that oscillate in a half-circle motion to remove biofilm from the tooth surface. 

“A lot of people are in a hurry and do a drive-by in the mouth,” says Anastasia Turchetta, RDH. “Electric toothbrushes give us a better chance of accomplishing what we need to do as hygienists, and that’s reducing inflammation, removing plaque and reducing hypersensitivity.”

Thiel recommends electric toothbrushes to every patient she sees. She always notices issues in the mouth that an electric brush can help improve, she says, including recession and sensitivity from improper brushing and gingivitis from not brushing at all.

Electric toothbrushes are also great options for children, especially if they have braces, Thiel says.

“Parents are spending a lot of money on orthodontic work, and if kids don’t brush correctly, they’ll end up with white boxes where the brackets are,” Thiel says. “That can only be fixed by putting on a crown, which can be pretty frustrating.”

Elderly patients with dexterity issues can also benefit from electric toothbrushes, Thiel says. Many older patients can’t move their hands the way they need to, so if they use a manual brush, they’re likely leaving plaque behind. An electric version cleans their teeth for them, so as long as they get it close to where it needs to be, it’s going to remove plaque and help prevent problems.  


Educating your patients on their options

When you recommend a power toothbrush to your patients, they’re going to want to know if it’s really worth the extra money, Turchetta says. After all, not only are the brushes themselves more expensive, so are the replacement heads they’ll need to buy every few months. Be prepared for patients to ask about the differences between the $50 and the $200 models-especially if you recommend a brush that falls on the higher end of that price range. It’s your job to educate patients about why one version is better for their particular oral health situation than another. 

“Most patients are concerned about cost. Electrics brush at 30,000 strokes per minute while a manual is only 200 strokes. I give them a choice. Do they want $30,000 or $200? That usually seals the deal right there,” says Ethel Hagans, RDH. “I also tell them anything that helps their teeth outlast them is a worthwhile investment. An electric toothbrush is only a fraction of what it costs to complete a deep cleaning or scaling and root planing.”

Clarke talks with patients about their current oral health care status, their home care routine, and how using a power toothbrush can remove biofilm and promote a healthy smile.

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“Electric toothbrushes help with stain removal, which is attractive to patients who really want a bright, white smile,” Clarke said. “And even with their phenomenal power, these brushes are still very gentle on the gums. If patients have recession, they can just place the brush on the tooth without using a scrubbing action. So I base the education on the patient’s ultimate goals and desires.”

To educate her patients, Thiel says she gives a demonstration chairside. She lets them put the power brush in their mouth so they can feel how it’s different than a manual brush. Once they see how easy it is to use and how cleaner their mouth feels, most patients are sold and want to know how they can get one of their own.  

The benefits of manual brushes

While many hygienists are strong electric toothbrush supporters, that doesn’t mean they don’t see the benefits the manual versions provide. Turchetta typically recommends one of each to her patients. That way, if they can’t afford an electric or just don’t want one, they can still purchase a toothbrush that will help improve their oral health.

Manual toothbrushes are inexpensive and travel-friendly, Turchetta says, and that means patients have no excuse to skip brushing. They come in different angles, different grips and with a variety of bristles. When recommending a toothbrush, Turchetta always thinks about not only what’s best for the patient’s oral condition, but what that patient will actually use. Buying any toothbrush, electric or manual, doesn’t do much good if patients don’t want to pick it up as part of their home care routine.  

“It goes back to asking what we are dealing with. Would the patient benefit from a smaller toothbrush head or an electric toothbrush? If they’re doing a good job brushing manually, maybe we stick with that but use a different style of bristle,” Turchetta says. “You have to look at your goal. If you want to reduce inflammation, how are you going to do that? If you want gums to be gently massaged, how are you going to do that? We have to do our homework.”  

How can you learn more about the seemingly endless options that are available? Turchetta recommends getting team members involved. Ask everyone to buy a different manual brush, and then sit down together to analyze them. Determine the type of patients each brush would benefit the most, and then commit to recommending those brushes chairside. Make this a fun team-building project, and engage with your patients by posting the results on social media.


Help your patients find the right toothbrush

For many patients, electrics toothbrushes are the best option. They make brushing easier, and patients love how they make their mouths feel.

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Finding the right brush that gives patients a clean, fresh mouth will help them understand the benefits of maintaining their oral health, Hagans said. Not only will that make their appointments easier, but once they experience a healthier mouth, it might prompt them to invest in more cosmetic options down the road. They’ll put more value in their oral health care and the services dental practices have to offer.

“Using electric toothbrushes is a proven proactive approach for our patients’ health,” Turchetta says.   “Make it a priority to invest the time to find out which toothbrush is their best fit. Compliance won’t be an issue and the result is healthy teeth and tissue.”

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