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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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I have used an electric toothbrush for years. Manual toothbrushes are generally too firm and I’m too harsh to be trusted with one.

My front teeth are in excellent condition but I’m somewhat edentulous at the back. I’m waiting for Which? to do an article on dental implants.

No mention of interdental brushes (as opposed to flossing) which transformed my gum health. They aren’t electric and they can be fiddly…I need four different sizes for full effectiveness…and if bought online can be reasonably inexpensive.

Swede says:
9 November 2012

I have the same problem of using too much force when brushing and would warmly recommend TePe brushes, the extra soft version. I pick them up very cheaply (6 for a fiver) when in Sweden, but they may be available on-line. I also use their interdental brushes which are on sale at my dentist surgery.

Thanks for the recommendation, Swede.

I find that an electric toothbrush disciplines me to clean my teeth properly. I tended to give them a cursory and rather haphazard scrub previously. However, my receding gums were the original reason I got one.

I have found that the batteries on the Braun models do not last more than a couple of years before the toothbrush loses its charge in 2 or 3 days.

I must be like Alan. I was advised to get an electric brush due to receding gums and therefore have an effective way of brushing without pressing too hard.
My dentist gains nothing from suggesting I buy one other than doing her professional duty. Most dentists seem to recommend them so I guess they are better from the empirical observations that dentists make every day. Simples

…and how come 3 Philips Sonicare products are reviewed without the Oral B sonic products?

Margaret says:
9 November 2012

Best advice I was given some years ago by my dentist’s nurse was to use an electric toothbrush & I have done so since then. Just bought the Oral B 5000 (heavily discounted:) and I love it as it warns against using too much pressure when brushing ( great as I’ve got receeding gums) and the wirefree timer with clock is great in the bathroom and when I exceed my 2 minutes it smiles and winks at me:) so I try to get a wink every time……so sad I know ! but seriously, cleans my teeth brilliantly in fact, feels better than when the dentist does it….hope this is useful x

Maxtoby says:
9 November 2012

I use a manual toothbrush in the shower in the mornings because it’s quick and easy, and I can throw it from the shower back to the sink and put it back in it’s pot later rather than leaving it in the shower where I will forget it. In the evening I do a thorough clean with my electric brush followed by interdental brushes. I like the electric brush because it has a timer function and gives me confidence i’m doing it right.

Dr Chris Matthews says:
9 November 2012

I always recommend an electric brush and either Floss Picks and/or Tepe brushes (whichever is more suitable). My patients who have gone electric almost always say that their teeth feel cleaner and their gums feel healthier. A small number of people don’t like the vibrations so stay manual. On examination people who use an electric brush tend to have less deposits in fewer places.

Dr Perelmann says:
8 November 2015

You’re not a doctor

I recently bought a Sanitas Sonic toothbrush from Lidl for £12.99. It came with 3 heads and is the best toothbrush I have ever had. It has 3 different settings so you can set it to firm, soft and massage. The battery lasts for ages. Why on earth would you pay the big brand prices? It also has a 2 minute timer on it.

Trisha Fermor says:
9 November 2012

I have used an electric toothbrush (Braun Professional) for many years and it beats a manual hands down. Teeth feel cleaner and, with the use of Teepee, really does keep tartar at bay although not completely eradicated.

Crazy John says:
9 November 2012

I have used an electric toothbrush for years as it was recommended by my dentist.( I have receding gums) along with interdental brushes.
I also use a mouthwash to keep any bacteria away as my lower jaw is disintegrating and I want to keep what few teeth I do have left in it!

I’ve used an electric brush for a number of years. I feel the timer disciplines me to spend long enough brushing.

I also use floss and interdental brushes and I think my oral hygiene is pretty good. I’m 55 and with all my own teeth save for a couple of childhood extractions.

A downside is that in my experience Oral B brushes have a pathetic battery life and the batteries are very hard to replace.

Think I’ll go electric with pressure sensor. I used both and thought electric felt cleaner but harsher, I was moving to manual preference however after reading the comments I’m with Margaret.

Used a Braun for 4 years until the battery gave up then reverted to a manual brush. No difference in performance. The important thing is to clean between the teeth using an interdental brush, floss or a stick. Brush angle is critical. Angle down towards the gums with the side to side movement, after the up and down action. Very important – apply only gentle pressure.

Jeniwib says:
9 November 2012

I use Oral B electric brush I bought for my partner 4 years ago (heavily discounted) – but he never used it! It has the smiley clock but I get bored easily having to stand there watching it tick round – so I walk around sorting laundry and other stuff while I brush! The time flies by. I occasionally suffer from bleeding gums but that is if I revert to brushing in the mornings only. As soon as I go back to brushing twice a day my gums behave again. (NB I don’t wet my brush and I spit, not rinse )

In the past i used a manual tooth brush until i changed my dentist , i was told to see another member of staff at a cost, of whom would teach me the correct way of cleaning teeth, one part was to buy a good electric tooth brush, because my gums had swollen and i was wearing them away , i took there advise , and since then i have had no problems with my gums , and on top of that i receive compliments on how white my teeth are , for 62 that’s not bad , the model i use is oral b sonic complete.
PS . this is not an advert.

I do not believe that the response can be representative. Either or is a poor way to establish use of alternative and in this case complementary tools. My dentist for instance expects a full daily oral hygene to include electric brushing of gums and manipulation of manual brushing to deal with interdental gaps. Moreover both flossing and “pipe cleaner” tools of the correct size without forgetting the need to utilize most appropriate dentifrice for your particular dentature.

So just electric or manual when you actually use both is not the most effective data collection method and any analysis is misleading.

par ailleurs says:
9 November 2012

I can only speak from personal experience but my hygienist and dentist both recommend electric brushing along with manual flossing. I wonder how many of those tested are like me and wavechange? My teeth were effectively mangled by 1950s NHS dentists with no advice on cleaning and no orthodontic treatment for what was clearly a challenging tooth arrangement. They were paid by treatment given and clearly made their cash from drilling and filling.
Now I have an excellent, enlightened dentist (private needless to say) who has rescued my gnashers with some help from crowns and bridgework and given them the chance of living as long as their owner. They need good, reliable cleaning and the electric brush hits all the right spots. Mine (Oral B ) also has a warning light if you apply too much pressure. My gum health is also now excellent and I have considerably less plaque build up. It may not be a scientific proof of the superiority of electric brushing but it’ll do me!

Conker says:
10 November 2012

I am on my 3rd Braun toothbrush in 10 years and both my dentist and I are happy with the the state of my teeth from the standard 2min twice a day. However, at £30-40 a pop plus expensive brush heads (which are commonly fake when purchased online e.g. Amazon/eBay) I don’t think the Braun Oral-B brushes offer the best value for money.
Does anyone else have postive experiences with alternative manufacturers?

Also, does anyone have comments on the new whitening/total care type pastes? I find that this type are actively promoted/discounted over the standard white-paste varieties and yet some of the fancy versions cause me to get cottonmouth/thicker saliva type symptoms. Is there a which? Consumer study on toothpaste? If not, could it be considered as I’d be very interested to read about the ingredients, health benefits and performance of the different types and to find out whether these fancy pastes live up their claims over the standard types?

You say Braun brush heads bought on Amazon may be fake? Wow, I’ve bought some of those. How do you tell if they’re fake or not?

Conker says:
10 November 2012

Not all heads sold online will be fake but, of 3x multipacks that I have bought over the last few years, the most recent 16-pack was definitely fake (bought from seller George Armstrong aka “garm-uk”). Whilst the packing was a very convincing copy, two things that I noticed is that the Oral-B logo wears off very quickly and also the oscillating head moves a bit too much i.e. away from the neck and this can lead to my lip being pinched!

You can google “Fake Oral-B” and you’ll find a number of sites with relevant information but I imagine that not all fakes are manufactured by the same factory and therefore may have different inconsistencies. Clearly fake heads are not going to be manufactured to the same tolerances as the original Braun ones.

Robert says:
10 November 2012

Is there a need to show differences between use of the ‘sonic’ pulsating, vibrating type and the oscililating type of electronic toothbrush?

I have used the former, as advised, for a number of years now (despite the cost of the brush heads) and feel I have good results.

I have used a electric toothbrush for a number of years now a OralB a previous Which best bu I think my dental hygiene has improved (my dentist likes them). However there is another important factor that seems to have significantly improved my teeth. I use a very expensive toothpaste and mouth wash. It is called Ultradex the mouthwash is a eyewatering £8.20 a bottle and the toothpaste over £6 a tube. I am not the kind of person who thinks that paying more money is better-but the results prove it is money well spent, my teeth have never been whiter and not a hint of bad breath. I discussed this product with my dentist and he told me it was highly rated amongst the dental profession he also stated there is a considerable difference between these highend products and the average mouthwash and toothpaste.However I have suggested to Which they research and test these expensive dental products-so far no results?

I’m surprised that there is little mention of the availability of the wide range of head designs of manual toothbrushes and their relative effectiveness. As everyone knows there are now many types, some quite expensive. I actually know someone employed by a major toothpaste manufacturer who carries out research into new designs for manual toothbrushes. Nevertheless, my dentist insists the best type is one with a simple short head design, one of which is given to me free after every check-up, though all the time insisting I should change to an electric brush. I actually find the short head design is definitely the best for me compared with all the fancy shaped ones I have tried. However, it is almost impossible to buy the short head type in the high street now and I have to go to my dentist to buy extra ones when needed. However, the dentist says they are finding it more and more difficult to obtain fresh supplies. Why is it the manufacturers are totally ignoring the advice of the dental profession? Surely not because producing more and more fancy heads gives them a competitive edge, even though they are no more and probably less effective than short heads!