Power (electric) toothbrushes versus manual toothbrushes

We look at whether you should make the switch

Have you ever wondered whether it’s time that you ditched your manual toothbrush for the powered variety featured in the pretty ads? Well, the highly regarded not-for-profit international health care organization The Cochrane Health Group reviewed about 354 research studies on whether you should. Their findings are that it’s a good idea, but that the improvement for most people is just going to be modest.

The Cochrane Health Group found that only the power brushes that rotate (oscillate to be precise) are better, so forget about buying the power brushes with vibrating bristles. Other key findings were that versus a manual toothbrush;

  • The amount of extra plaque that is removed is about 7%.
  • The amount of gingivitis that is reduced is about 17%.

Because the findings were for the general population, one would expect that the switch to power toothbrushes would logically lead to greater improvements for elderly patients with limited hand movement. One would also expect for the improvements to be more meaningful for those individuals who are at medium to high risk of decay.

Power toothbrushes are particularly great for such individuals where every little bit helps to prevent that next cavity. They get to hard to reach areas with their small heads. They do all the work for you by rotating. They tell you how long you’ve been brushing with a timer. They’re worth their investment if they help to avoid even one cavity.

On the other hand, if your dentist finds that your toothbrushing is already very thorough, then switching to a power toothbrush is not likely to make too much of a difference. For most individuals, a slight modification of your brushing technique; by being aware of brushing gently closer to the gums around all the teeth, may be the same as buying a power toothbrush. After all, even a power toothbrush needs to be put over the right areas for enough time.

The next time you are thinking about saying goodbye to your manual toothbrush consider the following key points;

  • Switch it if you are aware that there can be improvements to your current oral hygiene and you want to get all the help you can get.
  • Be aware that having a balanced diet, brushing more thoroughly, and flossing daily is going to make a bigger difference towards minimizing decay and gum disease than changing to a power toothbrush alone.
  • It’s a great gift idea for elderly family members who have declining manual dexterity or youngsters who don’t brush thoroughly or for long enough.

Please email drxue@thesmileteam.com.au if you have any questions.

Penick C. Power toothbrushes: a critical review. J Dent Hyg. Int J Dent Hyg. 2004 Feb;2(1):40-4.
Forrest JL, Miller SA. Manual versus powered toothbrushes: a summary of the Cochrane Oral Health Group’s Systematic Review. Part II. J Dent Hyg. 2004 Spring;78(2):349-54.

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