Electric toothbrushes - Applications and uses.

If you haven't already decided to get an electric toothbrush, the reasons given on this page may help you to decide to. There are lots of applications where using one can be a help.

(There are also some situations, as we mention lower on this page, where having one probably won't provide much benefit.)

Reasons to get an electric toothbrush.

A) Dental braces.      B) Limited manual dexterity (seniors / disabled persons).      C) Brushing motivation.      D) Fighting gum disease.      E) Tooth staining.      F) Oral conditions that make brushing difficult.

A) Dental braces.

Clearly, having dental braces (orthodontic bands, brackets, and wires) makes it hard for a person to brush their teeth. And in those cases where proper oral home care isn't maintained, that person will be at risk for:

  • Gingivitis (Gum disease).
  • White-spot lesions (Tooth decay).


Gingivitis is the same thing as gum inflammation. When it's present, a person's gums may be red, tender, enlarged, swollen, and they may bleed when the person brushes.

White-spot lesions may form where plaque is allowed to accumulate around dental braces.

White-spot lesions.

"White spot" lesions are discolorations that form on tooth enamel. They are the first stage of tooth decay formation.

Even in those cases where these areas don't transform into full-fledged cavities, once a person's braces have been removed they can result in a situation where the appearance of their teeth has been spoiled.

Dental Research - How using an electric toothbrush can benefit people wearing braces.

A study was set up (our Ho et al reference) where patients wearing dental braces who had gum inflammation (gingivitis) were broken into two groups. One group continued to brush with manual toothbrushes and the other group was given sonic toothbrushes to use.

(Evidently, just participating in the study motivated the manual-toothbrush group to improve their brushing habits. If was found that the health of their gum tissue did improve over the 4 weeks of the study, although just minimally.)

The group that switched to a sonic toothbrush showed substantial improvement in the health of their gums, as evidenced by the following parameters:

  • A reduction in the amount of supragingival (above the gum line) plaque. (This is the same location for dental plaque accumulation that would be associated with the presence of white-spot lesions.)

  • A reduction in the total gram-negative bacteria found in subgingival (below the gum line) plaque samples. (Gram-negative bacteria are typically the types of bacteria that are associated with gum disease).

  • A reduction of pocket depth. (A pocket is the space between the gums and tooth where the bacteria that cause gingivitis can live undisturbed).

  • A reduction in the number of locations which bled on probing. (Probing is a way of measuring and evaluating the health of gums. Any bleeding which occurs during probing indicates the presence of gum inflammation.).

Collectively, these findings make a good reason to consider the use of an electric toothbrush while you're having orthodontic treatment.

B) Elderly or disabled persons.

There can be two good reasons why an elderly or debilitated person might make a good candidate for the use of an electric brush.

1) It can help them take care of themselves.

Since electric toothbrushes create an effective brushing motion on their own, their use requires much less dexterity than a manual one. This can make them ideal for elderly persons or those who are physically disabled.

2) It can assist their caregiver.

People who take care of individuals who are unable to brush on their own will benefit from using an electric toothbrush when performing their duties. It will both make their task easier and more effective.

Testing with a 'trial' brush first may be a good idea.

Before purchasing a brush for someone else, please beware that the (sometimes vigorous) brushing action of an electric toothbrush can be quite unwieldy to some. This is especially true in situations where the person is at a point in their life where they are less adept to change or adapting to new situations.

Before you spend money on a high-end electric toothbrush, you might purchase a low-end (essentially disposable) one. Not that we recommend the long-term use of these products but as a test, to see if the potential for using a higher quality electric exists.

C) Brushing motivation.

You may have someone in your household who is not a good brusher. One possible reason for this might be that they simply lack the motivation to brush. If so, an electric brush might just be what they need.

1) Electrics can be fun to use.

There clearly is a novelty effect associated with using an electric toothbrush. And we don't mean just for kids. There can be an aspect of using an electric toothbrush that is fun or different. And because of this, a person will sometimes brush longer, more frequently, or both.

One study (our Biesbrock et al reference) reported that the introduction of an electric toothbrush into the oral hygiene routine of adolescents and adults alike produced brushing behavior that lasted 1/3 longer than when these same study participants brushed manually.

2) Powered toothbrush use often conveys a sense of oral hygiene "accomplishment."

A person might take a greater interest in brushing if they see evidence that using their electric toothbrush is giving results. A person's teeth may feel slicker and cleaner than ever before, an improvement in the health of their gums may be evident, or possibly they will notice a reduction in the amount of staining that they see on their teeth.

People tend to use their electric brushes.

Somewhat related to this topic of motivation, and so to provide some reinforcement for those who are hesitant to spend their hard-earned money, we can report on a study (our Stainacke reference) that evaluated responses from 120 persons who had purchased an electric toothbrush at some point during the previous three years.

At the extremes, 62% of these owners reported that they used their brush daily whereas only 3% of the respondents stated that they had ceased to use it totally. Buying an electric toothbrush is usually money well spent.

D) Gum disease.

Another reason to consider getting an electric toothbrush is because they have been shown to improve the oral health of those persons who have periodontal disease (gum disease).

One study (our Robinson et al reference) conducted a six-month evaluation of dental patients who had periodontitis (an advanced form of gum disease). Two electric toothbrushes were chosen for this study, one a sonic toothbrush and the other a conventional rotary type.

The effectiveness of these brushes was evaluated at 2, 4 and 6-month intervals. Each of these evaluations determined that the use of either type of brush produced significant reductions in the amount of dental plaque found on the surfaces of the participant's teeth. At the 6-month evaluation, however, it was determined that the sonic type had provided better interproximal cleaning (cleaning in those areas where a person's teeth touch up against each other) than the conventional one.

The overall health of the participant's gums improved over the course of the study with the use of either brush (as measured by reduction in gingival inflammation, probing depth scores, probing attachment levels). The evaluations performed at the 4 and 6-month time periods however showed a statistically greater oral health improvement in those patients who had used the sonic toothbrush.

It seems fair to make the conclusion that this study demonstrated that the long-term use of a good-quality electric toothbrush can improve the oral health of a person who has gum disease (periodontitis). And that the use of a sonic toothbrush can possibly produce a greater improvement than a conventional one.

E) Tooth staining.

Teeth whitening seems to be on everyone's mind now days. And because of this, just about every dental product you see advertised (including electric toothbrushes) tries to make some claim about having a whitening effect on the user's teeth.

Teeth have a base-line color.

When you discuss a tooth's coloration, there are two different aspects you need to take note of and evaluate separately. The first is its intrinsic color. This is the color the tooth would be if its surface was perfectly clean. The act of brushing one's teeth, in the sense of bristles scrubbing the surface of teeth, will have no effect on a tooth's intrinsic color.

Electric toothbrushes can remove tooth staining.

Surface stain can affect the color of teeth.

The other influence on the color of a tooth is extrinsic staining, also known as "surface stain." Extrinsic stain just lies on the surface of a tooth. The abrasive effect of the dentist's tools and cleaning pastes can scrub this type of staining off.

An electric toothbrush may be able to remove some surface stain.

The scrubbing effect of an electric toothbrush, over time and with continued use, may dislodge some, or possibly even all, of the surface stain found on a tooth and therefore create a whitening effect for it. As a means of maximizing your chances for this effect, allow your brush to scrub for a few extra seconds each time you run it in those areas where you notice that stain tends to accumulate.

An electric toothbrush may help to prevent surface stain from returning.

You may find that some of the stain that's formed on your teeth is too heavy or stubborn and can only be removed with a professional dental cleaning. However, once it has been removed, using your electric brush diligently should help to prevent, or at least minimize, its return.

F) Oral conditions that make effective tooth brushing difficult.

A person may have unique dental characteristics that make it difficult for them to effectively remove accumulated dental plaque and this may make a good reason why they should consider the use of an electric toothbrush.

For example, crooked teeth can be an obstacle to effective tooth brushing, and an electric may provide just the added help a person needs in this type of situation. Other obstacles can be less obvious. A tooth's surface often has pits, fissures, or concavities that can be difficult to clean. So can teeth that have had gum recession. Dental restorations, such as bridgework and dental implants, can also have surfaces that prove to be a challenge to clean effectively with a manual toothbrush.

Reasons not to buy an electric toothbrush.

A) Bad breath.

Using an electric toothbrush probably isn't going to cure your bad breath. Yes, bad breath is cause by bacteria. And more effective tooth brushing will reduce their numbers. But the vast majority of the bacteria that cause bad breath live on a person's tongue or in between their teeth and below their gum line.

You'll do far more to improve the quality of your breath by way using a tongue scraper and dental floss than by just improving your tooth brushing effectiveness. Also, electric toothbrushes have not been demonstrated to be more effective tongue cleaners than manual toothbrushes or the inexpensive tongue scrapers you see in the dental products section of your local store.

B) Teeth whitening.

As described above, using an electric brush may be able to lighten your teeth by way of removing accumulated surface stain. But it will never be able to actually change your teeth's baseline coloration. That can only be accomplished via the use of bleaching treatments (usually the application of some type of peroxide).

C) Dental research has not confirmed that using an electric toothbrush is better than using a manual one.

There is no overwhelming body of evidence in scientific literature that conclusively proves that using an electric toothbrush is better than just using a manual one. You can do a good job with either one, if you take the time to do so.

Powered Toothbrushes
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