Is An Electric Toothbrush Worth It?

Experts on the pros and cons.

An illustration of an electric toothbrush

(Illustration: iStock)

You see them everywhere: ads touting electric toothbrushes—and the promising results that they provide. For many of us who grew up with the conventional, manual toothbrush, it’s enticing to consider a next-level way of maintaining our dental health.

Electric toothbrushes have been around for a while, but it has really been in the past few decades that their popularity has risen with consumers. An increased focus on the importance of dental health, and the possibility of a variety of physical ailments stemming from poor dental hygiene, has raised the profile of these devices with consumers.

But is making the switch to an electric toothbrush—which typically cost anywhere from $30 to over $200 vs. as little as $1 up to $20+ for a manual model—really worth it?

Lori Grondin, a 57-year-old electronic toothbrush devotee who lives in Windsor, Ontario, answers with an unequivocal “yes!” She explains: “I’ve been using an electric toothbrush for about nine years now. My teeth feel 100 percent cleaner. I’m not getting so many teeth pulled now [than before switching to electric], so that’s a plus.” She changes the head of the brush every three months as recommended and hasn’t looked back.

Grondin is not alone in her love of this popular tool. The electric toothbrush market is a growing one. And, with almost one-third of Canadians without paid dental benefits through an employer, the need to keep cavities and worse dental problems at bay may be part of the increased use of this technological tool.

The benefits of electric toothbrushes

Studies have found they can be more effective at removing plaque from teeth due to the vibrations and rotations that these types of brushes provide. (Plaque is the sticky, and potentially damaging, film made up of living microbes that attaches to teeth.)

“They clean faster and cover more areas in the same amount of time as a manual brush and tend to be easier to use versus a manual brush,” says Dr. Lesli Hapak, periodontist and president of the Ontario Dental Association.

Additional benefits of electronic toothbrushes over manual ones include features that allow the user to properly clean their teeth without causing damage.

“Many electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors to let you know if you’re brushing too hard—which is especially beneficial for those people who have a bad habit of scrubbing hard in a back and forth motion, which can definitely cause gum recession and sensitive teeth,” continues Hapak. “Electric toothbrushes also have smart timers to let you know you have brushed for the two-minute recommended brushing time and many have different brush modes/intensities.”

These brushes also include ergonomic and mobility supports.

“It’s a great tool for people who may lack dexterity or have limited mobility,” says Dr. Shannon Hobbs, a dentist in general practice located in Toronto.

Hapak agrees. “They have comfortable handles, which is great for people that have trouble using their hands, have arthritis, muscle weakness or arm, shoulder, wrist or hand pain.”

The drawbacks of electric toothbrushes

One of the key limitations of electric toothbrushes are their cost. They can range anywhere from under $50 to $200 or more—not including the price of the replacement heads that need to be regularly changed. Replacement heads for these toothbrushes can range from under $20 to over $50.

“Electric toothbrushes can range anywhere from $15 to $200, and sometimes it can be a challenge to shop for replaceable brush heads whereas manual toothbrushes are much more affordable and can be found at any local drugstore,” says Hobbs.

Hapak agrees. “Electric toothbrushes can be costly—definitely more expensive than a manual brush. Replacement heads can also be costly, and most brushes recommend replacement every three months.”

The bottom line

While dentists underline that both manual and powered toothbrushes can be effective at cleaning your teeth, it all depends on how well you use your manual brush. In other words—if you’re worried about your brushing skills, and can afford it, an electric version might make tooth care easier.

How to brush your teeth effectively—with either a manual or an electric toothbrush

Either way, there are some basic tips that can be followed to assure that teeth are cleaned as well as possible. Whether using an electric or manual toothbrush, the following tips are recommended:

  • Brush your teeth for at least two minutes, minimum twice daily
  • Brush in gentle up and down strokes—not back and forth
  • Don’t forget to brush your tongue—it is also a place where bacteria can grow and flourish
  • Don’t overdo it with the toothpaste. A pea-sized dollop is enough
  • Floss your teeth regularly

What to look for in an electric toothbrush

For those who have chosen to take the leap and invest in an electric toothbrush, Hapak has these recommendations:

Speak to your dentist

“Always talk to your dentist because they can suggest the best brush for you. For instance, it’s important to determine which size brush is right. If you have a small mouth and not much room between your cheeks and your back molar teeth you’ll need a small brush head or a child size brush.”

Timing matters

“Look for an electric brush that has a timer to reinforce the two-minute minimum brushing time. If you’re purchasing a brush for a child, let the child have a say in what type of brush they want because it will likely increase their desire to brush.”

Under pressure

“Also look for a pressure sensor feature. This becomes very important for people who have a habit of scrubbing really hard when brushing. Scrubbing vigorously can damage the enamel, roots and gums. Pressure sensors can help prevent that.”

There’s an app for that

“For those that are tech savvy and want more from their brush, many of the newer models of electric toothbrushes have an app for your smartphone which can give you real time information about your brushing technique, what area(s) you are missing with your brush and how you can improve your brushing.”

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