What’s the best electric toothbrush for elderly people?
It makes sense for seniors to use an electric toothbrush.
Changes take place as we age.
The brushing needs of elderly people aren’t necessarily different than that of other age groups. But in most cases they probably are.
That’s because various dental, physical and lifestyle changes take place as we grow older. And the way in which they do typically redefines the way a person needs to brush.
Using an electric brush can be a big help.
In light of the fact that nowadays people age 65 and up are more likely to have a larger number of natural teeth than ever before, the convenience and effectiveness associated with using a powered toothbrush can be a big aid in helping a person to adapt to and overcome their new brushing challenges.
On this page, we take a look at two of the more popular electric toothbrush lines (Sonicare and Oral-b) and also a more specialized type of powered brush (Rotadent). We then point out situations where each one might make the best choice for someone in the later years of their life.
What are the special brushing needs of elderly people?
We’ve organized some of the common brushing challenges of senior citizens into the following scenarios:
- Seniors with routine or typical brushing needs for their age group.
- Those people who now have a significant amount of gum recession and exposed root surfaces.
- Older adults (frail, debilitated, disabled) who have experienced a reduction in manual dexterity or other physical capabilities.
- Elderly persons whose oral care is provided by a caregiver.
What toothbrushes did we consider for our comparison?
If you’ve already seen these reviews you’ll know that when making selections we tend to focus on value.
- We would never consider suggesting any electric that didn’t feature the most effective brushing action that that line has to offer.
- But since cost is an important factor to most people, our pages have never chosen a top-of-the-line model as a “best choice” and likely never will. After all, why buy the flagship model if other members of the product line are just as effective?
The models we compared –
The powered toothbrushes that we think tend to make the best choice for elderly persons (see specific applications below) are the following:
Sonicare 3 Series HX6631/02
a) The Sonicare 3 Series Gum Health (HX6631/02) – $90
Of course, if there’s something you’ve noticed that you especially like about one of Sonicare’s higher-end models, double-check its features (like checking for intensity settings if you feel you might need them) and then buy it. Generally speaking the higher up the Sonicare product line you go the more refined and powerful its brushing action.
Oral-B PRO 3000
b) The Oral-b PRO 3000 – $100
Here is a link to what we say about the PRO 3000 on our Best Oral-b’s page, as well as a link to further details about the unit.
c) Rotatdent ProCare – $135
After a bit of searching we finally did find this brush for sale online (try eBay). We also found previous models still available (including on Amazon), which would make an acceptable purchase to us too.
Ways electric toothbrushes can help elderly persons meet their brushing needs.
Please note: Despite the fact that we have broken this page up into the following sections, you really do need to at least skim through the entire page. If you don’t you will without question miss important links, details and comments about the brushes discussed.
Seniors with routine or typical brushing needs for their age.
The hypothetical senior citizen considered in this section is one who has done pretty well with taking care of and retaining their natural dentition. But just like so many people do over time:
- They now have a number of teeth that have dental restorations, some of which are fairly extensive. Some teeth may have dental crowns or veneers. Others may have been replaced with dental bridges or even implants.
- Over the years their gums have receded to some degree. This may be relatively normal age-related recession (age-accumulated might be the more appropriate term). Or it may be recession due to periodontal (gum) disease, either treated or untreated.
Tip: If you’re considering an electric toothbrush, Oral-b and Sonicare are two of the most-evaluated brands. We discuss them extensively on our website.
What toothbrush characteristics are needed?
While our hypothetical person here has advanced age, we don’t see anything that’s uniquely special about this scenario. A person having this status could be a member of any age group. And what’s needed is simply a good electric toothbrush. Specifically, one that can:
- Assist the person in cleaning what is now a somewhat more challenging oral landscape (numerous dental restorations, some gum recession).
- And if reduced dexterity or other age-related physical limitation has started to become an issue, be a tool that can help them to brush more efficiently and effectively than they can when using a manual brush.
Our toothbrush picks for Scenario #1.
It would seem to us that either the Oral-b PRO 3000 or the Sonicare 3 Series would make a good choice in this situation.
There are differences between these two and you should be familiar with them before you make a purchase. But only because you may find that you have a preference for one design over the other. Otherwise, we personally consider them to be equivalents.
Sonicare compared to Oral-B.
Sonicare brush heads are used more like a traditional toothbrush. Oral-B heads rotate back and forth.
- Oral-b models typically have a round brush head that lends itself to cleaning one tooth at a time.
- Sonicare units have a design that’s more like a traditional toothbrush, and are used in the same way.
Here’s a picture of their respective brush heads.
Where to learn more about these brands.
- Our pages contain details about how each of these brushes works. Use these links:
- Instead of reading, making a quick trip to your local store may give you all of the information that you really need. We’ve noticed hands-on displays of these product lines at the retailers Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
And although the display models themselves don’t actually function, you can get an idea of many factors that our pages really can’t convey, such as size, weight, brush head size, etc…
Sonicare may offer more toothbrush options.
As stated above, seniors fitting Scenario #1 really don’t have any especially unique needs that other age groups don’t have too.
And in light of that, we will mention that pretty much any Sonicare model we discuss on our Best Sonicares page could make a reasonable choice. The advantage being that those additional models would be lower in cost. In contrast, we don’t consider the Oral-b models lying below the PRO 3000 worth owning.
Seniors having significant gum recession and exposed root surfaces.
It’s not uncommon as we age to have areas where gum recession has become an issue. Some possible causes can be improper brushing technique (often performed over years, and even decades) or recession due to the effects of periodontal (gum) disease.
In some cases, the amount of damage that has taken place may be substantial. To the point where the contours of the now exposed tooth roots create a significant challenge to clean.
Ineffective removal of dental plaque from these areas can lead to perpetual problems with gum disease and/or root caries (tooth decay on tooth roots). Both conditions frequently lead to tooth loss.
What toothbrush characteristics are needed?
With this scenario too, the needed toothbrush choice is simply one that’s as effective a brusher as is possible. And in this case all three of our brushes have unique characteristics that help them to excel in cleaning hard to reach areas, such as the nooks and crannies of exposed root surfaces.
Our toothbrush picks for Scenario #2.
These brushes produce a secondary cleaning action.
What you may not know about both of these models is that they have a brushing action that cleans teeth in two separate ways.
- All electric toothbrushes remove plaque by way of their bristles scrubbing against tooth surfaces.
- Sonicare and Oral-b models (at least the good ones) also create a high-frequency pulsing action that imparts energy into the fluids surrounding the user’s teeth that to some degree helps to dislodge plaque even beyond where the brush’s bristles touch. (Yes, we said beyond where the bristles actually touch.)
Now we won’t pretend that the non-contact cleaning action that these brushes create is astoundingly effective (its old-fashioned tooth scrubbing that removes the vast majority of plaque). But in the case of trying to clean tooth (root) surfaces that are hard to access, why not go with every technological advantage that you can?
Sonicare offers additional toothbrush options.
Tip: Something that can help you decide what toothbrush brand makes the best choice is to look at the style of brush heads they offer and evaluating which appeal to you.
Rotadent electric toothbrushes.
This scenario, one involving elderly persons having significantly receded gums, is the whole reason why we decided to include the Rotatdent brush in our comparison.
Rotadent’s unique tapered brush head can reach in hard to clean areas.
- Similar to Oral-b models, Rotadent brushes are designed to clean one tooth at a time (although the standard brush head is even smaller in size).
- But different than what other brushes have to offer, there’s a Rotadent brush head whose design is somewhat of a tapered tip (see picture).
In comparison, Sonicare has nothing that compares. Oral-b does offer their “Power Tip” brush head but the Rotadent head is smaller and has much finer bristles.
A tapered brush head offers advantages.
It’s easy enough to envision how a Rotadent’s tapered tip might be worked in between teeth, and even into the minute spaces between the roots of multi-rooted teeth that have experienced a substantial amount of gum recession.
And since direct-contact brushing (tooth scrubbing) is always superior to the cleaning effect accomplished by non-contact “sonic” brushing, the Rotadent toothbrush should be considered.
Think this choice through.
We will say we wouldn’t purchase this brush without a lot of consideration first. That’s because we can see how cleaning your entire mouth using a tiny spinning brush head could be a tedious ordeal. And possibly too much of one for a person of advanced years (especially if debilitated or impaired).
But for extremely hard to clean areas, and especially upon the recommendation of your dentist or hygienist (dental offices often sell this brand), this brush could make a very effective choice.
Elderly persons who have a reduction in manual dexterity.
Advanced age is frequently accompanied by some level of reduced manual dexterity or other physical limitation. And for senior citizens who have noticed this type of change (especially in association with some degree of debilitation) using an electric toothbrush can be a significant asset.
- Electric toothbrushes create an effective brushing action on their own. All that’s required of the user is to work it around to all of the locations in their mouth.
- The comparatively larger handle of a powered brush (vs. a manual one) is usually easier for an impaired person to grasp.
Our toothbrush picks for Scenario #3.
For seniors with reduced dexterity, we think that either the Oral-b PRO 3000 or the Sonicare 3 Series makes a good choice.
Toothbrush characteristics that could be important.
A reduced power setting.
Both of these brushes have a feature that might play an important role in how well an impaired senior might adapt to using an electric. Both the 3 Series and PRO 3000 (as well as any higher-end models in their product lines) have a reduced-power setting.
Generally speaking, we are staunch advocates of only using the standard full-power mode featured on any Oral-b or Sonicare toothbrush. That’s because that’s the most effective brushing action that that model can create.
But in the case of an elderly person who is frail or debilitated, running their electric brush at full-power may simply be too overwhelming. A toothbrush in this mode can be vigorous, noisy and a lot to hold on to. And in some cases possibly more than the person can manage or grow accustomed to.
If so, a brush that offers the option of a reduced-power (reduced intensity) setting may make its use possible where otherwise it would not be accepted.
Choosing a toothbrush design that’s familiar may be important.
We will state that with this scenario we might have a slight preference for the Sonicare unit. That’s because its brush head is similar to a traditional toothbrush (see picture comparison above).
In the case where a senior citizen is being asked to learn a new task (switching from the use of a manual toothbrush to an electric one), that familiarity may make adapting to new ways easier. (In comparison, Oral-b’s typically feature a rotating circular head that lends itself to a one-tooth-at-a-time brushing style.)
A new brushing routine may take time to get used to.
Habits take time to set in. And especially in the case where an elderly person only has a history of using a manual brush, the transition associated with switching to an electric one can be difficult.
Don’t be surprised that it may take 3 to 4 weeks for a senior to become accustomed to the use of their new electric. During this period it’s not a bad idea to remove their manual brush so they can’t keep switching between the two.
Elderly persons whose oral care is provided by a caregiver.
The level of oral care provided for seniors who cannot brush on their own can be abysmal. This might include disabled, debilitated or especially frail individuals. And may include elderly persons who live in a nursing home or assisted-living situation.
Caregivers are often unknowledgeable or unmotivated about what brushing goals need to be accomplished. And performing the task itself can be difficult, tedious and unpleasant for both parties.
How an electric helps.
The fact that a power toothbrush makes an effective brushing action on its own can simplify and substantially improve the outcome of a caregiver’s efforts.
Our toothbrush picks for Scenario #4.
Our suggestions here are no different than for the other scenarios on this page. The Oral-b PRO 3000 and the Sonicare 3 Series both make good choices for seniors (and caregivers) in this situation.
Toothbrush characteristics that could be important.
A reduced power setting.
Once again, having the option of using a reduced-power brushing mode (both of these models have this feature) might make brushing tolerable for a frail, elderly person whereas otherwise it would be too vigorous or overwhelming. (However, whenever possible using the full-power mode will provide more effective cleaning.)
In this instance, we might have a slight preference for the design of the Oral-b unit. As shown in our picture above, its round brush head lends itself to a “brush one tooth at a time” approach.
Tip: Since you may not know how a debilitated person will react to the use of an electric, a low-end brush may make the best choice as a test. Then if all goes well, you might then consider a more effective model.
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