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Are Manual or Electric Toothbrushes Better?

A person holds a manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Most of us were taught to brush our teeth twice a day to maintain successful oral health. Plus, who doesn’t love having that fresh breath? 

While both manual and electric toothbrushes are proven to be effective for cleaning your teeth, have you ever wondered which one might be better?

We spoke with dental experts to get the inside scoop on the electric versus manual toothbrush debate.

Benefits of Manual Toothbrushes

Colorful toothbrushes sit in a clear glass.

Before there were fancy, pulsating electric toothbrushes, there were manual models. While they might seem like an outdated way to keep up your oral hygiene, don’t discount them so quickly.

Manual toothbrushes have plenty of benefits, particularly for those with sensitive teeth or gums according to Rhonda Kalasho, Cosmetic Doctor of Dentistry and CEO of TruGlo Modern Dental.

According to Kalasho, these brushes offer greater control over pressure and speed, a benefit you won’t find with electric models. When you have sensitivity, this is particularly important as you could cause pain, bleeding, or other harm if brushing too hard or vigorously.

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The other key benefit is affordability. While there are some lower-cost options for electric toothbrushes, manual options are by far the most accessible. For those with budgetary concerns, a manual toothbrush can cost as little as a dollar, and you won’t need to invest in batteries or worry about charging. Plus, they’re often widely available in chain grocery and drugstores as well as some gas stations, making them handy for travel as well.

Benefits of Electric Toothbrushes

Two electric toothbrushes sit on a countertop next to a plant.
Damian Lugowski/Shutterstock.com

Now that we’ve run down manual toothbrushes’ benefits, let’s talk about the pros of option for an electric option.

While both manual and electric toothbrushes are proven to be effective at removing plaque, studies show that electric toothbrushes have far greater results.

“More recent studies have shown that when the toothbrush moves at a particular speed or RPM and is oscillating, vibrating, and rotating it is giving the user the most advanced clean,” Kalasho tells LifeSavvy.

Manual toothbrushes only can scrub in one motion at a time, while electric toothbrushes can provide a deeper clean with additional movement simultaneously. This motion provides more pressure when scrubbing away the bacteria on your teeth.

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Dr. Kalasho favorite is the Oral-B iO.

Some electric toothbrushes (including Kalasho’s Oral B iO) can feature built-in timers to ensure you’re always brushing for an adequate amount of time and apps that help you track brushing styles and pressures that help you do the best possible brush.

For those with mobility limitations such as arthritis, carpal tunnel, or developmental disabilities, electric toothbrushes can also make brushing easier. The rotating brush head does much of the work for you, and some models feature easy grip handles.

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Pressure sensors make sure you are being nice to your gums.

One of the few downsides to electric toothbrushes? The cost. While there are more affordable options, many higher-end versions can retail for up to $300. Yes, you will only need to replace heads and batteries, it’s still a significant investment for some.

How to Use Manual and Electric Toothbrushes

A woman brushes her teeth in front of a mirror.

When it comes to the act of brushing, manual and electric toothbrushes really show their differences even if brushing is somewhat similar.

Both manual and electric toothbrushes should be used for two minutes according to Rob Raimondi, D.D.S., co-founder of One Manhattan Dental. You should work the brush on the outside of your teeth and work your way to the top and bottom of the tooth before repeating these steps on the interior. Then, move to your gums, the roof of your mouth, and your tongue.

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The differences appear with how you move the brush. Electric models won’t require you to make small circular motions over each tooth. The brush’s head does that for you. With manual brushes, however, Raimondi says to lightly brush in small circles over all the surfaces of the mouth.

Essentially, electric toothbrushes are meant to do the work for you, so if you are using a manual toothbrush you’ll want to be sure you apply appropriate pressure, are intentional about covering all areas of the mouth, and keep those small circular motions going.

Kalasho has one reminder when it comes to using either toothbrush—they’re only half your oral health regimen. Don’t forget to floss afterward.

How to Care for Manual and Electric Toothbrushes

Two toothbrushes sit on a counter next to a plant.
5 second Studio/Shutterstock.com

Now that you know the benefits of both toothbrush types and how to brush with them, how exactly do you care for each one?

For both manual and electric toothbrushes, you’ll want to rinse the bristles with warm water after brushing your teeth. Both dental experts suggest letting the toothbrushes air dry in an upright position to prevent the growth of bacteria and germs.

Although it’s not required every time you brush your teeth, it’s also not a bad idea to occasionally sanitize your toothbrush. This protects your toothbrush from toilet plume—bacteria that float in the air after flushing the toilet.

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Load up with replacement heads for your Oral-B electric toothbrush.

Of course, no mater how well you care for them, a toothbrush can’t last forever. Both manual and electric toothbrushes should be replaced after three months. But for electric toothbrushes, you only need to replace the head.

It’s also a great idea to replace your toothbrush if you’ve been sick, or have noticed the bristles have worn down or discolored. Chances are, this tarnishing on the toothbrush indicates it might not be cleaning your teeth very well anymore.

Are Manual or Electric Toothbrushes Better?

A manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush sit next to one another.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

We’ve covered that manual and electric toothbrushes have their own set of benefits, but the big question remains—is one better than the other?

According to both Raimondi and Kalasho, an electric toothbrush is best for the most effective cleaning.

“In several independent studies, electric toothbrushes greatly outperformed manual toothbrushes in the reduction of plaque,” Kalasho explains. 

In addition to reducing plaque, she says the brushes can minimize chances of gingivitis and cavities compared to manual toothbrushes. The reason? The oscillating design gets to harder-to-reach areas in your mouth and applies the right amount of pressure for the most effective brushing.

While we’ve already mentioned the cost, Raimondi says more expensive electric models are worth the investment. These premium brushes have more reliable features, such as better toothbrush heads, and advanced features, like an app or timers.

Phillips SoniCare Expert Clean Rechargeable Toothbrush

Brighten your smile with Sonicare's rechargeable electric toothbrush.

“It is important to know that [inexpensive electric toothbrushes] are not much more effective than a manual toothbrush,” Raimondi says. “The effectiveness of these are still highly dependent on your ability to clean and your attention to detail.”

As for his recommendations, he points to the Sonicare and Oral-B brands, emphasizing that they do the best job at keeping your smile looking bright and clean.

However, there are still some exceptions for when you might want to use a manual toothbrush. If you’re traveling, a manual toothbrush is a great way to pack it lightly. Your sensitive gums might also thank you with a manual toothbrush.

If you’ve been trying to decide between a manual and electric toothbrush, these insights can help form your decision. But remember, a toothbrush is only part of the equation, be sure you’ve got a full oral hygiene routine as well.

Kelsey Opel Kelsey Opel
Kelsey Opel is a freelance writer and digital storyteller based in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing for food, entertainment and mental health spaces. Off the clock, she loves indulging in an avocado margarita and chips and queso at her favorite Tex-Mex spot in town. Read Full Bio »
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