Manual vs Electric Toothbrush – What’s Best for You?

One of the most frequently asked questions is, “A manual vs electric toothbrush, which one is better?” The truth is, research shows that electric toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes at removing plaque, thus, reducing gum inflammation. However, some research papers show no difference between manual vs electric toothbrushes. Thus, deeming them both to be EQUALLY as effective. Honestly, it’s not the toothbrush that should be judged…it’s the people using those toothbrushes that makes the difference.

Unfortunately, most people don’t perform the correct technique with a manual toothbrush. Hence why electric toothbrushes often show better results. Some people can regurgitate the fact that they need to make “little circles” with the toothbrush. However, when I give my patients a manual toothbrush spontaneously, very few of them actually remember to make those “little circles”. Sadly, most patients get caught aggressively brushing from side to side, which can lead to gum recession and tooth sensitivity.

manual vs electric toothbrush

Picking the right toothbrush can prevent dental decay and minimize tooth sensitivity in the long run. This article discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both electric and manual toothbrushes, to help you make the best decision.

Advantages of an Electric Toothbrush

  1. Less technique sensitive. The toothbrush does 90% of the work for you! All you have to do is relax and move the toothbrush head around your mouth with minimal effort.
  2. Saves time! Electric toothbrushes provide 6,000 to 30,000 strokes per minute. Whereas your hand averages 300 strokes per minute with a manual toothbrush. Therefore, you might need to brush longer with a manual toothbrush to remove the same amount of plaque.
  3. Better access – Electric toothbrushes have a smaller toothbrush head compared to manual toothbrushes. Therefore, if you have a small mouth, then an electric toothbrush will be beneficial for you. Moreover, if you have your wisdom teeth, then reaching them with an electric toothbrush is a lot easier because of its small, round toothbrush head.
  4. Pressure control – One of the most common reasons for sensitive teeth is gum recession or tooth abrasion. Unfortunately, this is often caused by people brushing too hard. Thankfully, electric toothbrushes don’t require any additional pressure. You simply place the toothbrush head on each tooth surface for 5 seconds and then move onto the next tooth.
    • TIP #1: Start from the back corner of your mouth and move along the arch in a systematic manner. This way, you won’t miss any teeth and you won’t aggressively brush from side to side.
    • TIP #2: The amount of pressure you place on your teeth with an electric toothbrush is the same amount of pressure you would put on the tip of a needle with your fingertip. In other words, do NOT push the electric toothbrush against your teeth – it won’t remove any additional plaque.

Disadvantages of an Electric Toothbrush

  1. Cost –  Electric toothbrushes tend to be more expensive than manual toothbrushes. But they last for years, so I would consider them a good long-term investment.
  2. Tooth Abrasion – Tooth enamel can STILL be worn down if you brush too hard with your electric toothbrush. This can lead to tooth sensitivity in the long run.
    • TIP: If you’re using an electric toothbrush, do not push down on the toothbrush head with any additional force. And do not aggressively brush from side to side with an electric toothbrush. Move the toothbrush around your mouth nice and slow.
  3. Teeth Sensitivity – If you already have sensitive teeth due to receding gums or tooth abrasion, then you might find electric toothbrushes on those areas too painful. In this case, manual toothbrushes may be helpful, so you have more control over the pressure in specific areas. 
  4. Loose Teeth – If you are getting older and finding that your teeth are becoming looser, then electric toothbrushes may not be ideal for you. The vibration and pressure from the electric toothbrush may cause discomfort or increase the mobility of those loose teeth.
  5. Vibration & Sounds – If you don’t like the vibrating sensation or sound, you’re not alone. Sometimes, the vibration sounds can be amplified if you are wearing hearing aids.
  6. Not Very Travel-Friendly – Electric toothbrushes need to be recharged daily. Most of them will slow down and rotate less if they haven’t been charged for a day or 2. Therefore, if you travel a lot, then electric toothbrushes may not be suitable for you. However, now there are options on Amazon for electric toothbrushes that can be charged using a USB port instead of a wall outlet, those might be more suitable for you.
USB Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush

Advantages of a Manual Toothbrush

  1. More control – You decide how fast & how hard you want to brush. This is useful if you have loose teeth or sensitive areas in your mouth that may be aggravated by an electric toothbrush.
  2. Less expensive – Usually a good manual toothbrush is under $10 
  3. Travel-friendly – Easy to store & easy to replace if you are hopping from country to country and accidentally misplace it.
advantages of a manual toothbrush

Disadvantages of Manual Toothbrushes

  1. No timer – If you’re someone who easily loses track of time, then you can either be over or under brushing your teeth. Unfortunately, if you’re over-brushing, then this may lead to gum recession and sensitive teeth in the long run. On the other hand, if you’re under-brushing, then the plaque build-up can cause bad breath, cavities or gum disease.
    • TIP: 2 to 3 minutes with a manual toothbrush is ideal
  2. Too much pressure – Sometimes people prefer a manual toothbrush because they enjoy brushing “harder”. This gives them the illusion that their teeth will be “cleaner” or “whiter”.
    • TIP #1: Brushing harder will not clean your teeth more. In reality, brushing harder will slowly scrub away the protective outer layer of your teeth (enamel). Just keep in mind that enamel can never be grown back. Losing the protective enamel layer is usually the cause of tooth sensitivity.
    • TIP #2: If you are looking to whiten your teeth naturally at home, click here.
  3. Harder access to the back of the mouth – The toothbrush head for manual toothbrushes is quite large compared to electric toothbrushes. Most people face difficulty reaching the back corners of the mouth.
    • TIP: I recommend adults to purchase a children’s toothbrush with a smaller toothbrush head. It will give you better access to the back corners of the mouth.
  4. Harder to use a manual toothbrush if you suffer from bone conditions or injuries (ie. arthritis). If you suffer from conditions that impact your motor skills, or you have suffered an arm injury, then manual toothbrushes may be harder to use properly.
  5. Very technique sensitive – Unfortunately, if you’re not using the correct toothbrushing technique, then you can cause long-term damage to your teeth and gums. Most people aggressively brush from side to side while applying too much pressure on the toothbrush head, which can lead to gum recession and tooth sensitivity.
    • TIP: If you want to use a manual toothbrush, you must use the modified bass technique. The video below shows the correct manual toothbrushing technique.
Modified Bass Technique Shown Using a Manual Toothbrush

Manual vs Electric Toothbrush, Which One is a Winner For Me?

manual vs electric toothbrush

Personally, I use an electric toothbrush. I love the timer and the pressure-sensitive features. Plus, I am usually half asleep when I wake up, so I don’t trust myself in performing the correct technique with my manual toothbrush. However, what’s ideal for me, might not be ideal for you. But hopefully, this article helps you pick the best toothbrush for your needs.

Regardless of the toothbrush you ultimately choose, remember to brush twice a day (especially before bed) with a fluoride toothpaste.

References

Wolden, H., Strand, G. V., & Gjellestad, Å. (2006). Caregivers’ perceptions of electric versus manual toothbrushes for the institutionalised elderly. Gerodontology23(2), 106-110.

Yaacob, M., Worthington, H. V., Deacon, S. A., Deery, C., Walmsley, A. D., Robinson, P. G., & Glenny, A. M. (2014). Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6).

Sanya Arora

Hi, I'm Sanya, a cosmetic dentist. I am passionate about chocolate and red wine, but I'm also passionate about maintaining a nice, healthy smile! This is a common dilemma I saw amongst my patients, which led to the creation of The Dental Pen blog. Hopefully, my articles will help you maintain your pearly white teeth while you enjoy all the sweet treats life has to offer. Some of my other hobbies include volunteering, singing and dancing.

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Manual vs Electric Toothbrush – What’s Best for You?
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