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Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes?

Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes? image shows electric toothbrush and manual toothbrush
(Image credit: Getty)

Dentists and their patients have long asked the question: are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes? While the answer will come down to personal taste, budget and people’s access to the latest dental technology, science has come up with a clear answer to the quandary.

But, as with many answers, there are some exceptions and circumstances to consider when deciding if an electric toothbrush would be better than a manual toothbrush. Your age, the health of your teeth, and whether you’re undergoing any dental treatment are all contributing factors that would help a dentist decide if an electric toothbrush would be best for you.

Discover the pros and cons of manual versus electric toothbrushes, and who should be using which one. You can also find great savings on some of the best electric toothbrushes, including Oral B electric toothbrush deals (opens in new tab), as well as the best electric toothbrushes for kids.

What are the best options for children and adults?

The most appropriate toothbrush option for you will change throughout your life, and can depend on whether you are going through dental treatment at any given time. So, the first step is breaking down toothbrush options depending on your age group.

Research published in the International Journal of Pediatric Dentistry (opens in new tab) found that electric toothbrushes were the best option for children who have their teeth brushed by a parent or were independent enough to brush their teeth effectively on their own. Dentists surveyed by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (opens in new tab) advise that your child should be treated by a dentist from the age of one year. Your child’s dentist will recommend when you need to start using an electric toothbrush to clean their teeth.  

Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes: image shows family brushing teeth

(Image credit: Getty)

Researchers have looked into whether teenagers look after their teeth more effectively when given a manual or electric toothbrush. The data shared in the BMC Oral Health journal (opens in new tab) showed that over two weeks, teens who were given an electric toothbrush brushed their teeth for longer and had less plaque at the end of the experiment. Dentist Dr. Amo Sohal, MDDr. BSc. Pg (dip) (opens in new tab) confirmed this, and told Live Science that "electric, sonic, or powered toothbrushes are clinically proven to be more effective than a manual brush in keeping gums and teeth healthy." 

Dr. Hannah Kinsella (opens in new tab) recommended using a sonic toothbrush: "I recommend that patients use a sonic toothbrush because the brush does all the work for you, so all you need to do is to move it around your mouth and not apply too much pressure as this can damage gums." Sonic toothbrushes differ from other brushes because they move much faster than their oscillating counterparts meaning you simply need to place the brush head on the three surfaces of each tooth to get a good clean. 

As with any rule, there are some exceptions. After having dental surgery, you may need to consider using a specialist toothbrush for a few weeks. Research shared in the Scientific World Journal (opens in new tab) found that using a manual soft toothbrush with extra-fine bristles was the most comfortable option during recovery from dental surgery. They also found that by using a comfortable toothbrush, people could keep up with their oral hygiene routine better.

There are also specific recommendations for those having orthodontic treatment. For example, researchers at the Angle Orthodontist (opens in new tab) journal found that oscillating-rotating toothbrushes were more effective at removing plaque and reducing decay than sonic toothbrushes for patients with fixed braces.

We’ve broken down the main points of comparison between manual and electric toothbrushes so you can figure out the best option for your needs.

The pros and cons: Manual toothbrushes

Price point: Manual toothbrushes range between $0.80 and $15 depending on the make and model according to current listings on Walmart (opens in new tab).

Effectiveness: Manual toothbrushes rely on the user’s technique to be efficient. Dr. David Rice told Live Science that the type of manual brush you choose is crucial: "if you’re going to use a manual brush, it’s very important to make sure you’re using a soft-bristled brush. Pressing too hard can damage your gums and/root surfaces of your teeth if they are exposed for any reason."

Functions: Manual toothbrushes get the job done. They’re helpful to use when you’re on a tight budget, to have in your car or at work as a backup, or if you’re traveling. Models tend not to vary too much from one brand to another.

Accessibility: Handles on manual toothbrushes tend to be narrower than for some electric toothbrushes. The Journal for the American Geriatrics Society (opens in new tab) found that accessibility may be an issue for those who struggle with arthritis in their hands or other neurological or musculoskeletal conditions that affect dexterity. 

Sustainability: Manual toothbrushes are more sustainable than electric toothbrushes. Manual brushes with detachable heads and bamboo toothbrushes were both found to be the most sustainable options, according to research published in the British Dental Journal (opens in new tab) in 2020.

Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes: image shows Oral B Genius X electric toothbrush

(Image credit: Amazon)

The pros and cons: Electric toothbrushes

Price point: Between $5 and $200 depending on the make and model according to current listings on Walmart (opens in new tab).

Effectiveness: The consensus between all the dentists we spoke to is that electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual brushes at removing plaque and keeping your teeth and gums as healthy as possible.

Functions: Electric toothbrushes have a range of functions that vary depending on the make and model. Some include timers to ensure you have brushed your teeth for long enough, and others also have sensors to warn you when you’re applying too much pressure while brushing. 

Accessibility: According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (opens in new tab), researchers have found electric toothbrushes help to improve oral hygiene in people with disabilities because of how effective they are at reducing plaque. The length of time needed to brush teeth effectively is less than with a manual toothbrush, relieving carers of an otherwise lengthy and uncomfortable task for their patient or loved one.

Sustainability: Electric toothbrushes are not the most sustainable option for oral care. They do, however, tend to require less water usage when brushing teeth than manual brushes, according to research published in the British Dental Journal (opens in new tab)

India Bottomley is a health and beauty writer whose work has been published in the likes of Cosmopolitan, Forbes, and Dazed Magazine. A lifelong skincare aficionado, India has been writing research-led pieces on trending skincare, makeup, and cosmetic procedures since 2016. She takes particular interest in the growing connection between tech and beauty, and has had pieces on the topic published in American Healthcare Journal. When not writing she can be found exploring national parks or at the beach chasing sunsets.