Lots of people these days use electric toothbrushes to keep their pearly whites nice and bright. But are they really better? Yes, say dentists, who overwhelmingly recommend them as the best means of keeping your teeth clean and free from plaque and its damaging effects. Yet simply purchasing an electric toothbrush doesn't guarantee great results. You also need to make sure you brush at least twice daily, spend at least two minutes a session brushing and use the proper brushing technique (yes, there's a technique to it).
Before you rush out to buy an electric toothbrush, do a little research. First, electric toothbrushes aren't the same as battery-powered toothbrushes, which are similar to manual brushes but use a AA battery to make the bristles vibrate a little, thus providing some extra cleaning. True electric toothbrushes are rechargeable units that plug into the wall. You change the brush heads every three to six months and keep the handle, which receives the charge. The heads comes in different shapes and sizes and work differently. They may oscillate, vibrate, rotate or use sonic technology [source: Oral B].
Electric brushes also come with various features, such as special modes for sensitive teeth, gum massage and whitening. Some come with pressure sensors that let you know if you're brushing too hard, or feature digital reminders to replace your brush head. Most are packaged with extras such as toothbrush holders and travel chargers [source: Oral B].
The major drawback to electric toothbrushes, in many people's opinions, is the cost; starter kits are generally $50 to $75, although you can purchase some for less than $25 or more than $100. In the long run, however, they may not cost much more than manual brushes, as they need to be replaced far less often [sources: Go Ask Alice, Oral B].
Still not sure? Read on for five benefits to going electric.
5: They clean your teeth more thoroughly.
Electric toothbrushes win hands down over manual brushes when it comes to cleaning ability. The electric version's whirring bristles remove plaque better and faster, for starters. Their more advanced designs are also able to get at hard-to-clean areas like the backs of molars and the gum line, thus helping to prevent cavities and gingivitis. Not surprisingly, then, both the American Journal of Dentistry and the British Dental Journal support the use of electric toothbrushes [source: Electric Toothbrush Reviews].
But don't just listen to the sages at dental journals. Regular folks are big electric toothbrush fans, too. In a survey of 16,000 patients published by the American Dental Association, more than 80 percent said they improved their oral cleanliness after switching from their manual toothbrushes to an electric version [source: Electric Toothbrush Reviews]. It's hard to argue with that!
4: They keep you from brushing too hard.
If it's tooth-whitening you're after, look for electric toothbrushes with a cupped-bristle design, which enhances polishing. Use with a low-abrasion, whitening toothpaste, but only once weekly or it might be too hard on your teeth [source: Electric Toothbrush Reviews].
It's ironic -- you try so hard to get your teeth nice and clean that you wind up brushing too hard. Most often, this means you injure your gums, possibly even causing some gum recession. (And gum tissue never grows back.) Brushing too vigorously can also remove enamel from the tooth surface, causing sensitivity to cold, heat and other stimuli [source: Mama's Health].
One of the major benefits of electric toothbrushes is that it's nearly impossible to brush too hard with them because you shouldn't really be doing the brushing. With an electric toothbrush, you simply hold the brush and let its moving bristles do the work. You do reposition the brush over different parts of your mouth, but you're not supposed to be vigorously moving the brush back and forth, and you definitely shouldn't be applying pressure.
Some models even have sensors that will automatically reduce the power if you start brushing too hard [source: Electric Toothbrushes]. This is a great option for those who are prone to using a little too much force when they brush.
3: They're easier to use for people with dexterity issues.
The American Dental Association (ADA) says people who have physical conditions (such as arthritis, limited mobility in their hands or arms or manual dexterity problems) that make it difficult to use a manual toothbrush should consider using an electric toothbrush. Why? Electric toothbrushes have larger handles, which are easier to grip. Plus, their powered brushes do the cleaning for you, especially in the tricky areas that require fine motor skills to get at, such as the backs of molars and behind your upper and lower front teeth [source: ADA].
2: They have built-in timers so you brush the proper amount of time.
Before you purchase your new electric toothbrush, make sure its bristles have rounded ends, which helps prevent gum damage. Your dentist can also assist you in determining whether your brush's bristles should be of a soft or medium hardness [source: Animated Teeth].
Did you know you're supposed to brush your teeth at least 2 minutes at a time, spending at least 30 seconds in each of your mouth's four quadrants (upper right and left sides and lower right and left sides)? You probably think you easily brush your teeth for that amount of time, but if you timed yourself, you might be quite surprised at how little time you actually do brush. The average brushing time for Americans is a measly 31 to 65 seconds per session, depending on sex and age [source: Radius Toothbrush].
One of the more helpful attributes of electric toothbrushes is that most come with timers that beep when two minutes are up. If you haven't heard the beep, keep brushing! Others additionally emit a beep after 30 seconds, so you know it's time to switch to another section of your mouth [source: Electric Toothbrushes].
1: They're greener.
There's some debate about whether electric toothbrushes are less harmful to the environment than manual toothbrushes. Those who say yes note that you would go through a lot of "regular" toothbrushes (the heads of which aren't recyclable) before you dispose of an electric brush, most of which use replaceable heads. In fact, according to the environmental experts at Green Your, it takes between 14 and 42 toothbrush replacement heads to equal the amount of plastic in one manual toothbrush [source: Green Your].
Of course, you do eventually throw out your electric toothbrush body, because at some point it stops taking and holding a charge [source: Sustain Lane]. Still, many people feel electric toothbrushes are more environmentally friendly.