Toothbrushes: Manual or Electric?


When it comes to shopping for a toothbrush, many of us often find the selection in the toothbrush aisle a bit overwhelming. Aside from the attractive colours and patterns on the toothbrushes, we are drawn to certain products by the functions they claim to perform. The main purpose of a toothbrush is to remove plaque and debris from teeth and gums. In addition, toothbrushes can also stimulate the gums and help to maintain hygiene of the entire mouth. However, the ability to do these things depends not only on the toothbrush, but also on the brushing technique, duration and frequency. The choice of a toothbrush, therefore, is about choosing the best aid to oral hygiene.

Manual toothbrushes are simple to use, portable and relatively inexpensive. Many newer products have ergonomically shaped handles that make them more comfortable to hold and to control. In terms of the bristles, new designs such as criss-crossed and multi-level can potentially be more effective in cleaning between teeth and along the gum line than conventional designs. Some products also have built-in gum stimulators and tongue/tissue cleaner pads.

Electric toothbrushes are more complex to use, bulkier and relatively more expensive. However, the user only needs to guide the toothbrush along the tooth surfaces and the toothbrush head vibrates, pulsates and oscillates to dislodge the plaque and debris. Some electric toothbrushes also have pressure sensors to alert the user when too much force is being used to place the brush against the teeth. Timers are built into some products so brushing duration can be tracked. Additionally, many are packaged with a variety of brush heads that have different functions, such as tongue cleaning, gum stimulation and cleaning around braces.

So which is better? Unfortunately there is no simple answer! Considerable research has not been able to show any clinically significant difference in cleaning efficacy between manual and electric toothbrushes. Therefore, the deciding factor should be the needs of the individual user. With proper technique, a manual toothbrush can clean just as well as an electric one. For those with limited motor abilities, it may be easier to hold and to use an electric toothbrush. Also, some aggressive brushers can benefit from the built-in pressure sensors of electric brushes to help prevent damage to teeth and gums. The novelty factor of a hi-tech electric toothbrush may also act as motivation to encourage more frequent brushing! However, for most people, a manual brush is just as capable in facilitating oral hygiene maintenance as an electric one, and is often more affordable and easier to carry around.

Dr. Li

Whether the choice is manual or electric, there are a few things to keep in mind. In general, both manual toothbrushes and electric brush heads should be replaced every three months or when the bristles lose their firmness. Also, to help achieve thorough oral hygiene, it is recommended to brush for two minutes, two to three times daily. It is also important to clean not just teeth and gums, but also the entire mouth including the tongue. Finally, smaller brush heads should be selected to access corners and tighter spaces, as it is easier to miss hard-to-reach places with a brush that is too large.

Dr. Yolanda Li, Winston Churchill Dental


Buchan, H. (2012, Spring). Toothbrushes 101. Your Oral Health Brought to You by the Ontario Dental Association, 14-15.