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Electric vs manual toothbrushes – which gets your pick?

Toothbrush with toothpaste tube

Have you given up on your manual toothbrush and become an electric convert? We looked at the research to try and determine if electric really is better than a manual, or whether it’s all just in the brushing technique.

I’ve been using a variety of electric toothbrushes for the past 10 years. They seem to brush well and keep my teeth in good health. But it hasn’t always been like this.

Before I joined the electric revolution, a dentist advised me that my gums were receding because I was brushing too hard with a manual brush. So I bought my first electric model and haven’t looked back. But is there any evidence to prove that electric brushes are actually better than manual ones? Or is it really all just down to brushing technique? I went in search of some answers.

Electric vs manual toothbrushes

The Cochrane Oral Health group – an internationally recognised organisation that reviews clinical trails in oral health – compared trials that had been performed with almost 4,000 participants. It found that electric brushes with a rotating oscillating action could reduce plaque by 11% and gingivitis by 6%. However, the majority of electric brushes only seemed to perform about as well as the manual ones.

And they couldn’t find conclusive evidence that electric brushes are better than manual brushes in the long term. This all seems rather unsatisfactory to me – should I stick with my electric brush or would I get just as good results if I reverted to a cheaper manual one? It looks like we’ll have to wait for the results of more research to get a definitive answer either way.

Best brushing techniques – say ta ta to tartar

According to dental experts, how you brush is more important than what you brush with. We’ve just tested electric toothbrushes and asked our expert dentist for the perfect brushing technique. He advised gently brushing for two minutes twice a day and making sure you evenly clean all tooth-surfaces, inside and out. He also suggested visiting a dentist to get your technique checked out. I definitely plan to do this the next time I go.

I now think that my oral health has probably improved because using an electric brush means I don’t apply as much pressure on my gums when I’m brushing. But that’s just me – if your technique is already good, a manual brush would probably do you just as well.

Have you switched to an electric brush, or are you sticking to your manual one?

What type of toothbrush do you use?

Electric toothbrush (80%, 2,049 Votes)

Manual toothbrush (20%, 528 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,577

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Some years ago a dentist recommend that I use a soft toothbrush. I think I am picking up from the various comments that an advantage of an electric brush is that they are not as aggresive as a manual brush. So I find it curious that soft manual toothbrushes are often absent from supermarket shelves.

I suffer from tremor and cannot use a manual toothbrush. I find an electric one successful.When testing please give some thought to people who may have difficulties.

When I saw a Wisdom electric in Wilkinsons for £8.50 about 8 months ago I gave in to impulse buying. I’m neither impressed nor dissatisfied. It doesn’t remove plaque as well as a medium-hard brush so I frequently use both. They say that the brushes should last for a couple of months but I find that the oscillating heads get quite wobbly in the socket after about 10 days. This may mean that the amplitude of oscillation gradually gets less and it takes longer to give a good brush. It is quite comfortable and easy to use and if the motor, battery and charger have a decent working life it may have been a sensible buy.

Reg Hunt says:
10 November 2012

As A retired dentist I reckon that ought to know how to brush my teeth because I can visualise the surfaces I am trying to clean at any particular moment in the procedure. So I use a a manual brush which I feel gives me more precise control. Type, size and hardness are all important factors as is technique. So I guess for the less committed / systematic user, an electric brush might be the more effective. But for me a manual does at least as good a job and maybe better. They offer a wider choice of head sizes, hardness rating and shape And they’re much cheaper ! The cost of replacement electric brush heads seems very high.

Camusnaherie says:
10 November 2012

I use a Braun electric brush but I also use Australian made Piksters interdental brushes before brushing which are much more effective than all others and last much longer and do not bend as easily. No plaque and top marks from my hygenist!

I have used a Braun electric toothbrush for some years, and prefer it for the feeling, the action of cleaning, and the convenience. However, for plaque removal, the best solution I have found is the use of Listerine regularly. I used to have to have my teeth scaled and cleaned up by my dentist/hygienist, at the price of some discomfort (and increased fees!). Since using Listerine, I produce hardly any plaque, which is easily removed by the dentist.

I have used an electric (single rotating head, no time or pressure check) brush for about two years and the results are noticeably better than I achieved with a manual brush. My original dental surgeon frequently hinted that electric was the way to go, and I think I might upgrade to one with a more sophisticated action one day. My present dentist frequently compliments me on how I maintain my teeth, though one always wonders whether such comments are given to everyone to encourage them!

Dr Shumi says:
11 November 2012

I am dentist and I could say: there is not big difference between electric and manual brushes, key is the time and technique, as well as interdental brushes, flossing and using mouthwash.

Dr Perelmann says:
8 November 2015

You’re not a doctor. …

Dr Shumi says:
11 November 2012

I am using manual one (Curaprox) and very happy with the results.

Elizabeth says:
11 November 2012

I have always used a manual brush together with interdental brushes and floss. I hate the noise electric brushes make and they are expensive.

Hazel says:
15 November 2012

I am approaching 80 and have used an electronic toothbrush for many years. I still have all my teeth with the exception of the two back bottom – removed by a rather enthusiastic dentist when in my forties!!

Frank says:
19 November 2012

All I would say is give an electric toothbrush a try. Once you have you’ll never want to return to a manual. I have had no isssues with my gums since I bought my first electric about ten years ago, My first was just a cheap battery operated one and it was great. For the past four years I’ve had a nice rechargeable one by oral b that cost about £20 and has been very reliable. You get that just polished feeling every day with an electric, just as if you had been to the dentist. My teeth feel so much cleaner with the electric. My two children, boys aged 9 and 15 have electrics too and love them.

Really! you should have a third button: a joint button not solely an either or !!!!

I read the magazine report a few days ago and note that there was no mention of Wisdom brushes. I bought one a few months ago (see my earlier comment on it) so dissapointed not to know if I didn’t buy a bargain. I’m now concerned because when I went to buy some more brush heads (in Wilkinsons) I got the last two. They are now pushing a non-rechargeable wisdom with a different brush design.

I checked the Oral-B model on the net and found that you can buy it at close to half the Which?-stated price – but Amazon are also pushing an upgrade (500 to 600) also at about £21.

Now ethically confused as to whether I should continue to buy from Amazon since they aren’t paying enough corporation tax!!!

As we’re talking about teeth… we’ve just published a new debate on how you pay for your dental treatment. If you go private, do you have dental insurance, or dental payment plan? Or are you with the NHS? Join the debate: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/dental-payment-plans-private-dentist-nhs-costs/

Dick Endecott makes a good point. He should have no qualms in ordering from them on the basis of taxation anomalies Amazon does not avoid paying tax. The tax regime enables the firm, like other firms, that operates across the EEA single market to be taxed quite properly in Luxembourg. If out tax system is out of step it would be for our Chancellor to ensure a competitive tax rate to enable firms to operate from the UK. I think the ultimate logic would be to have a harmonizad tax regime throughout Europe, then we would not have these distortions. Is this a too political point? More to the point why is the Wisdom brush as he says no longer available?

Dick Endecott here. My normal login refused to work so I’m now also registered using my photographer’s name.
Don’t assume that because Wilkinsons are out of stock and are pushing a different model Wisdom has discontinued it. These big stores don’t keep these kind of things on the shelf if they think they can use the space to sell something that moves quicker. Lidl is a good example of this. They ran an electric toothbrush for two weeks and I haven’t seen replacement heads there since. Wisdom heads are still available on-line. I’ve just looked for reviews about this Wisdom on-line and found that many more reviewers have found it ‘terrible’ and very few ‘good’. Unbranded head substitutes for Oral B also came out very poorly – even dangerous.
Your remarks about tax loop-holes are noted. UK used to be a flag-of-convenience for shipping so I suppose all countries have some ‘dodgey’ habits.

Alistair says:
31 August 2013

I drink a lot of coffee and had very yellow teeth. On searching the internet I was advised to use baking powder. My wife uses an electric tooth brush but the brush was too small. I use an ordinary toothbrush, “whitening toothpaste” and then dip the brush into the baking soda. It works well.

One of your bloggers says he is using bicarbonate and brushing his teeth with it. Bicarbonate works well on stove tops but on the tooth enamel it may not be an adequate long term solution to stained teeth syndromes. Indeed prolonged use will remove layers of good tough enamel and weaken the teeth exposing the soft dentine to the stresses of mastication and aggressive bacterial action On the assumption that the gums are in a healthy state you blogger should consult an NHS dentist and take the advice proffered for his specific needs.