Electric toothbrushes have been widely touted, and indeed they can be equally effective as — or in some cases even more than — manual brushes when used consistently. A variety of studies have been done comparing different power toothbrushes, and while there is agreement that power brushes are safe, results on plaque-removing capabilities of the various devices have varied.
Understanding the Research
An analysis conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent nonprofit organization, compared various types of electric toothbrushes. Researchers systematically sorted through the data from studies done from 1966 to 2004 that compared power brushes’ effectiveness at removing plaque, maintaining gum health, and removing stains, as well as their dependability and adverse effects. The power brushes were divided into seven groups based on how they worked.
They found that most of the power toothbrushes were no more effective than manual toothbrushes. Just one type of brush — the rotation oscillation design (where the brush heads rotate in one direction and then the other) — was consistently better at removing plaque and reducing gingivitis (gum inflammation) than a manual toothbrush.
Who Needs an Electric Brush?
An electric toothbrush can be particularly helpful for people who have trouble reaching all corners of their mouth. For example, power brushes are useful for people with braces, parents brushing their young children’s teeth, and individuals with mental or physical disabilities that impair dexterity. The thicker handle on power models also is a plus for some older people and people with arthritis who have difficulty grasping the thinner shaft of a manual brush.
But ultimately the best brush may simply be the one you feel most comfortable with. If you have questions, bring your toothbrush to your next dental visit so your dentist can examine it. While you’re at it, demonstrate your brushing technique, so your dentist or hygienist can make sure you are brushing correctly.