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Electric or manual toothbrush? I’m at a floss


I’m sure all of you brush your teeth at least two times a day, but what’s your tool of choice? Do you opt for an electric or a manual brush? Here’s Patrick and Adam going head-to-head in the Great British Brush Off…

Patrick’s for electric toothbrushes

avatarUntil last year, I was like Adam. I brushed my teeth using a tool that’s essentially unchanged since cavemen first brandished frayed twigs to improve their oral hygiene. And then I evolved.

During a routine check-up, my dentist told me that my gums were starting to recede on one side due to aggressive brushing. I was fully prepared to book myself into a hypnotherapist to coax me out of this bad habit, but to my relief, my dentist told me there was another way. I could buy an electric toothbrush.

I haven’t looked back. My teeth just feel cleaner after the change. Perhaps this is predominantly due to my poor manual-brushing skills, but I just can’t compete with my electric’s 7,000 rotations per minute.

The pressure-sensor and the timer have made the biggest impact. Having a light to warn me when I’m brushing too hard and a timer to keep me brushing for two minutes have banished my bad brushing habits.

Yes, electrics are more expensive than manuals, but I certainly didn’t cough up £100 for one. You’ll often find them on sale, and our tests have found value electric brushes that do the job. So, join the electric revolution and leave those soon-to-be-in-a-museum manual relics behind.

Adam’s for manual toothbrushes

avatarAccording to our poll from a couple of years ago, I’m firmly in the minority when it comes to my choice of toothbrush. Call me a luddite (I’ve been called worse), but the idea of owning an electric toothbrush has just never appealed.

I understand Patrick’s arguments for going electric – that brushing requires less effort and some models have natty features like a timer and pressure sensors. But are electric brushes really necessary? I can honestly say that I’ve never needed an alarm to tell me I’ve been brushing for two minutes or when to move on to the next section of my mouth. Nor have I felt like my arm is about to drop off after my morning or evening clean.

And if I ever needed any more persuading that an electric toothbrush isn’t for me, I just take a look at the price tags. Some cost in excess of £100, with manufacturers recommending that pricey replacement heads should be fitted every three months.

I’ve used manual toothbrushes all my life. My teeth are in healthy shape and I’ve never had any complaints about my breath (at least not to my face). I won’t be changing to an electric.

Which camp are you in? Do you agree with Adam that a good old manual toothbrush is the way to go? Or are you in Patrick’s electric toothbrush team?

Do you brush with a manual or an electric toothbrush?

An electric toothbrush, like Patrick (67%, 358 Votes)

A manual toothbrush, like Adam (33%, 178 Votes)

Total Voters: 535

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Does anyone know what the swill & spit solution is that they give you in the dentist’s in order to flush out the debris after a drill & fill operation? I rather like the taste of it [not addicted, you understand, but nicer than your normal mouthwash]. I usually have two or three beaker-fulls, especially if there’s been a bit of heavy engineering going on. I was wondering whether it was a trade-only product or is available on the high street.

Incidentally, I usually unnerve my dentist by asking lots of technical questions about what he’s going to do, which tool he’s using, can I see the remains, and so forth. He doesn’t like the idea of the captive patient being wised-up on the procedures, just like he always leaves the payment side of it to his glamorous assistant behind the counter – in return, I make sure that’s always a difficult extraction. I also help myself to a few of the complimentary toothpaste tubes on the counter – very handy for the holidays.

Here’s advice from Damien Walmsley, professor of restorative dentistry at the Uni of Birmingham and scientific adviser to the British Dental Association.

“A recent review of clinical trials has found some benefits in using an electric toothbrush over a manual one, including a 21% reduction in plaque after three months of use.

“But there is no evidence that using an electric model will lead to better long-term oral health. Brushing thoroughly and regularly remains the most important factor in combatting tooth and gum disease.

“An electric toothbrush can have the edge over a manual brush when its features help to improve your brushing technique. Most indicate when you’ve brushed for two minutes, to ensure you clean for long enough, and some have interval timers that prompt you to move on to the next section of your mouth for a more even clean. Pressure sensors can help to prevent you brushing too hard and damaging delicate gum tissue.”

We hear a lot about the importance of brushing our teeth but less about the condition of the toothbrush. Whether it’s electric or manual, a brush that is in good condition and not bent over makes a big difference.

Although with electrics, manufactures say you should replace brush heads every three months. And that can ad up as they can cost as much as £5. We don’t think you should rely on the manufacturer claims as the time it takes for a brush head to wear down to the point where it stops cleaning effectively depends on your brushing style. Here’s a picture of brush heads to show when you should replace them.

My preferred alternative is to see if I can suck air through my front teeth after cleaning. If not, I replace the brush.

I don’t think I can ever do that…

wavechange – I suspect you mean “between” your front teeth, otherwise you might have been over-energetic, or drinking too much Coke.
I remember when once you reached 40 it was not uncommon to have all your (remaining) teeth extracted and fitted with dentures. These then self-cleaned overnight, I believe, in a glass by your bed – although these days they might be put in the dishwasher (if you had one).

If it is possible to insert an interdental brush or dental tape between front teeth it should be possible to suck air through your (set of) teeth. Coke is handy for cleaning copper objects and surprisingly useless as a limescale remover, but I’m not going to drink the stuff.

Anne U says:
2 December 2014

A good electric toothbrush is wonderful. Using a manual toothbrush is like putting a broom in your mouth!

Looks like an answer for the manually eco friendly individual as reported in Gizmag yesterday.


The truly enduring component of the Goodwell toothbrush is the medical-grade aluminum handle. This combines with interchangeable, eco-friendly attachments to make up an environmentally friendly “toothkit.”

The toothbrush uses bristles made from biodegradable charcoal fibers, while the flossing and tongue scraping attachments are made from polished bamboo composite. This means they can be tossed in the compost rather than the trash can once you’re done with them. An optional subscription service sees replacements shipped out to users each month.

Erik99 says:
10 December 2014

What continually surprises me is the ever-repeated advice to brush teeth for “at least two minutes.” Many years back, when electric toothbrushes were unheard-of, this was clear and understandable, but as electric ones are so much more efficient, why does the recommended time stay the same? Surely, two minutes by hand is less efficient than two minutes by electric brush, so why not (say) a minute and a half. On the other hand, if two minutes powered brushing is necessary, should the manual brushing not be increased to (say) three minutes? I have wondered this for many years, and would value an expert opinion.

I believe it is that massaging the gums is also important as it stimulates blood flow.

Very good point Eric99

Just to add to the mix; and from a toothpaste manufacturer:
“You should clean your teeth at home with a soft-bristled brush two or three times each day.”

Does brushing three times a day outweigh all other methods of increasing clean teeth?

It’s well established you can overdo things and damage your gums and even your teeth – toothpaste is abrasive. A dentist should not need to clean your teeth if you are doing a good job.

I expect the reference to a recommended two minutes brushing is not related to the efficiency or rotational speed of the electric toothbrush but more to do with the necessity to reach fully into the upper and lower gum areas on both the front and back sides of the teeth as well as spending long enough on the teeth themselves. I’m not convinced that the high speed of an electric brush is entirely advantageous; I think half the speed would be sufficient – it’s the effectiveness of the application of the brush to the teeth and gumlines that produces the ring of confidence.

I think this will depend upon how regular your teeth are. Some people have difficult-to-reach places wherte the plaque develops. Good to have this regularly removed by a hygienist.

Alison says:
20 December 2014

My husband was told to use an electric toothbrush as he pressed too hard with a manual, and was wearing out his teeth! (However I notice his electric toothbrush heads still wear down considerably faster than mine!).

An electric toothbrush makes me continue for 2 minutes, which I probably seldom did with a manual, and also think about which parts of the mouth I have done – or not done, since it tells you when every 30 seconds is up.

Hi Alison

Some of the more expensive versions of the Braun electric toothbrush have a pressure sensitive feature that warns the user if they are pressing too hard. Perhaps your husband would benefit from that feature?

Interdental brushes says:
27 December 2014

I use a manual brush and mini interdental brushes as advised by my dentist. My chemist and supermarket no longer stock interdental brushes. Where can I get them?

Interdental brushes: If your dentist doesn’t keep them try Waitrose which is where I purchase mine.

I’ve also seen them in Tesco. Or use Amazon – free delivery on some if over £10.

The cheapest by far that I’ve found is Amazon. They sell TePe ‘loose’ in 8, 24 or 40 packs instead of those stupid blister packs at a fraction of the cost your dentist sells them for.

Interdental brushes says:
28 December 2014

Our Tesco no longer stocks them.

Before you bulk buy make sure you get the correct size to suit the variable spaces in your teeth. You may need more than one size.

I prefere manual brush and floss

Betsy Perry says:
18 May 2015

Hi guys, I recently read a blog http://www.stevemocrae.com/are-electronic-toothbrushes-better-than-manual/ where it says, for people suffering from arthritis or joint ailments, electric tooth brush is a great option, is it so?. My 84 year old grandmother has joint pain and she has trouble brushing her teeth. ?Is it ok for her to start using it at her age? Plz advice.

I think it’s dificult to answer that question in correspondence. A doctor, dentist or dental hygienist would be best placed to advise taking various factors into account that can only be assessed by looking at your grandmother’s mouth and her manual dexterity.