Manual vs. electric toothbrush: What's the best choice? (2024)

Editor's note: Guest post excerpted from Nothing But the Tooth: An Insider's Guide to Dental Health, by Teresa Yang, DDS

The holidays are just around the corner, and your family has decided to focus on the practical this year. It’s almost certain you’ll receive an electric toothbrush. You’re not really a gadget-type person and you rather like your manual brush because you can change the color every couple months. Does anyone really need an electric toothbrush? What are the differences and advantages (or disadvantages) of manual vs. electric toothbrushes?

Is an electric brush better than a manual one?

A2019 studyaimed to answer that very question. The researchers followed almost 3,000 people for over 11 years. They found that sonic toothbrushes reduce the signs of periodontal disease and the number of teeth lost. Other studies have concluded that electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual ones at removing plaque, one of the main culprits of cavities and gum disease.

Also by Teresa Yang, DDS: When is a cavity really a cavity?

So, if you find an electric brush in your pile of gifts this year, by all means, keep it and use it. But not everyoneneedsan electric brush. For some, it’s an unnecessary expense, but an electric brush is highly recommended for others. These include:

  • Children and teenagers
  • Seniors
  • Anyone with a physical disability such as a broken dominant arm or Parkinson’s disease
  • Anyone with a cognitive disability like dementia or Down syndrome
  • Anyone wearing braces

What to look for in an electric toothbrush

You don’t need anything fancy. Like cars, electric brushes are available with many options, for example different pressure settings. There’s also a push on manufacturers to introduce new and improved features every year. Some brushes are now “smart,” with Bluetooth capabilities. Brushing time can be recorded and tracked. Some apps provide coaching or encouragement, which may be beneficial for children. There are even apps that treat brushing like a game to incentivize children to brush.

The cost of the toothbrush is generally tied to the number of enhanced features. When picking a brush, consider which features you will definitely use. While some characteristics may sound appealing, they sometimes border on the gimmicky. For example, some brushes come with a UV light that claims to disinfect the brush between uses. Most experts agree that effective destruction of bacteria, viruses, and fungi with a UV light depends on a host of complicated factors and not as simple as it seems.

A basic brush with the following may serve you best:

  • The right size: Sonic brushes come with either a small, round head or a rectangular one that more approximates a manual brush. Which fits in your mouth better?
  • A timer: Almost all brushes are equipped with a two-minute timer that beeps every 30 seconds, signaling you to move from one quadrant to the next. Some brushes even automatically turn off after two minutes to prevent overbrushing.
  • Replacement brush heads: Just like your manual toothbrush, brush heads should be changed every two to three months, or at the first sign of fraying bristles. Heads should also be changed after an illness such as a cold. Make sure you have replacement brush heads on hand, particularly if you’re purchasing a less expensive model that may be discontinued in the near future.

If you travel, consider the bulkiness of the brush. Some brushes come with travel cases. Since brushing techniques differ, it’s advisable not to switch between a manual and electric brush on a regular basis.

How to use your electric toothbrush

The biggest difference between an electric brush and a manual one is that you will hold the electric brushpassively and guide it from tooth to tooth. Let the brush do the work for you. Resist the urge to apply additional hand pressure.

Helpful hint: At the beginning, consider holding your electric brush with your nondominant hand. Without that muscle memory, you may be less likely to apply undue force.

Electric brushes can be ticklish, and for a rare few, this may be intolerable. If you’re excessively ticklish elsewhere, consider experimenting with a loved one’s electric brush first. Insert a new brush head and give it a whirl.

What if you want to continue using your manual toothbrush?

Follow this simple rule: Brush softly with a soft-bristled brush. You can brush too hard and cause irreversible damage to your gums. Regardless of whether the bristles are nylon or plant based, stick with soft. Avoid boar bristles as they’re stiffer than nylon.

Again, you don’t need anything fancy; you can get a toothbrush for as little as two dollars. But if that stylish, Scandinavian toothbrush has caught your eye and you don’t mind paying five to 10 times more, go for it.

Eco-friendly toothbrushes

Bamboo toothbrushes seem to be all the rage, advertised with the following features:

  • Biodegradable: Obviously wood will eventually degrade back into the earth, whereas plastic lasts forever in landfills.
  • Eco-friendly: Regardless of the source, toothbrushes have to be mass produced in large-scale facilities. A wood product like bamboo must additionally be harvested and replenished to maintain its environmental impact.
  • Antibacterial: Bamboo is naturally resistant to most bacteria, making it a potentially ideal candidate for cutting boards and the like. However, only the shaft of the brush is made from bamboo and the bristles are not antibacterial. Besides, our mouths contain a treasure trove of bacteria.

The bottom line: whether electric or manual, stick to basics

  • Select a brush or brush head that’s not too big for your mouth. Ensure there’s enough room to maneuver the brush around
  • Only buy a soft-bristled brush, and brush softly
  • Change your brush or brush head every 2-3 months; also change it after you’ve been ill.
  • Brush for a total of two minutes (30 seconds in each quadrant)
  • The most important time to brush is at night before bed
  • Brush your tongue
  • Air dry your brush in between uses
  • Do not share your toothbrush with others

Teresa Yang, DDS, has practiced dentistry in the Los Angeles area for more than thirty years. She has taught clinical dentistry and patient management at UCLA School of Dentistry, has written extensively on dental topics, and is a member of the Forbes Health Advisory Panel. She is the author of Nothing But the Tooth/An Insider’s Guide to Dental Health (Rowman & Littlefield, August 23, 2023). Learn more at

Manual vs. electric toothbrush: What's the best choice? (2024)


Manual vs. electric toothbrush: What's the best choice? ›

They found that sonic toothbrushes reduce the signs of periodontal disease and the number of teeth lost. Other studies have concluded that electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual ones at removing plaque, one of the main culprits of cavities and gum disease.

What is better, a manual or electric toothbrush? ›

Benefits of an Electric Toothbrush

Removes more plaque –electric toothbrushes remove up to 70% more plaque than manual toothbrushes in hard-to-reach places*. Good for your gums – an 11-year study of electric vs. manual toothbrush use found that electric toothbrushes resulted in 22% less gum recession.

What does the ADA say about electric vs manual toothbrush? ›

The American Dental Association (ADA) confirms that manual and electric toothbrushes are effective. For general oral health, a manual toothbrush with soft bristles is recommended by the ADA. Examples include the Colgate 360 Toothbrush which has soft tapered bristles and soft rubber polishing cups.

Do you prefer a regular or an electric toothbrush? ›

Better Cleaning Power

Oscillating or rotating electric toothbrushes can reduce plaque and diminish your chances of developing gingivitis more effectively than a manual brush. Electric toothbrushes can remove more bacteria from your teeth, leaving your mouth feeling cleaner and fresher.

Are electric toothbrushes better or worse for your teeth? ›

Because it does all the work, a powered toothbrush is better at removing plaque. It is also a better option for smokers who want to prevent staining.

Why is manual toothbrush better? ›

One of the critical advantages of manual toothbrushes is the level of control they offer. You can adjust the pressure and angle to target specific areas of your mouth. This precision control allows for a more thorough and effective cleaning, especially in hard-to-reach places like the back of your molars.

What are the disadvantages of electric toothbrushes? ›

The Cons of Electric Toothbrushes

They also require replacement heads, which can be quite pricey. Higher Risk of Damage- Because of their electronics, they are at a higher risk of damage if dropped or falling in the water. It can be inconvenient- We've all been there.

What do dentists think of electric toothbrush? ›

The topic of a range of research, studies like the one published in the Journal of Dentistry found that the smaller head and faster oscillating movements showed powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis better than manual brushing in the short and long term.

Is manual toothbrush good enough? ›

They found that sonic toothbrushes reduce the signs of periodontal disease and the number of teeth lost. Other studies have concluded that electric toothbrushes are more effective than manual ones at removing plaque, one of the main culprits of cavities and gum disease.

Why do some people prefer electric toothbrushes than manual ones? ›

Instead of relying on manual movements to clean teeth, an electric toothbrush delivers power-brushing in a fraction of the time it would take with a regular brush. The rotating or vibrating bristles do all the work for you as they simultaneously remove plaque and massage your gums.

Is it OK to use electric toothbrush everyday? ›

Absolutely! Using an electric toothbrush every day is generally recommended and can be beneficial for maintaining good oral hygiene. The consistent use of an electric toothbrush helps remove plaque effectively, reaches difficult-to-reach areas, and promotes better overall cleaning compared to manual brushing.

Is it worth getting an electric toothbrush? ›

At the end of three months, the group using an electric toothbrush showed 20 percent better plaque removal and 11 percent less gingivitis than the group using the manual toothbrush. In studies that ran six months and longer, the benefits of the electric toothbrush were even more pronounced.

Which electric toothbrush do dentists recommend the most? ›

The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean 9000 is our brush of choice. It looks great, feels great, provides a powerful clean and has all the features of a good electric toothbrush.

Do electric toothbrushes remove more plaque? ›

The clinically proven superior technology of an electric toothbrush removes 100% more plaque than a regular manual toothbrush. Two-Minute Timer: Oral-B Electric Toothbrushes include a built-in timer that guides you through a two-minute brushing routine to help make sure you clean all the areas of your mouth.

What is the downside of a sonic toothbrush? ›

However sonic brushes do have one major drawback; they tend to be quite expensive compared to both manual and electric versions making them cost-prohibitive for some users with tighter budgets who still want a quality brush for cleaning their teeth thoroughly each day!

Are manual toothbrushes better for gums? ›

While many studies have shown electric toothbrushes to be more effective at removing plaque than manual toothbrushes, many have also shown manual and electric toothbrushes to be equally effective at maintaining optimal gum and dental health. It's the cleaning habits you create with your toothbrush that really matter.

Is manual or electric toothbrush better for gum recession? ›

Electric toothbrushes offer many advantages over manual toothbrushes when it comes to treating receding gums. It is designed to move in small, circular motions that are much more effective at cleaning plaque and bacteria from the gum line.

Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes if you brush for 2 minutes? ›

Electric toothbrushes generally do clean the teeth more effectively. To give you an idea, an electric brush does about 30,000 strokes per minute while a manual averages 200 strokes per minute. So if you are spending 2 minutes brushing, it's obvious the electric toothbrush will be working harder at removing the plaque.

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