My patients often ask me: “What is the best toothbrush?” There is no question that, in the hands of an average patient, a good electric toothbrush is vastly superior to a hand brush. In fact, I would consider it one of the most important things – if not the most important – that patients can do for themselves to have better checkups, fresher breath and less decay. Why?
Studies show an average person commits only 21 seconds to brushing at each session, or around 100 strokes in a side-to-side fashion. This contrasts with electric brushes, which typically put out 60,000 strokes in a two-minute period. Sixty thousand strokes versus 100 strokes – it is obvious the electric toothbrush will clean a lot better.
Side-to-side abrasive brushing is eliminated by the electric brush's up-and-down or circular motion. This often can help keep people with gingival recession from making their problem worse.
Does your hand brush splay or “spread out” after a month of brushing? If so, you are brushing too hard. The amount of force applied with good quality electric brushes is monitored and any excess pressure triggers either a sound in the brush or a warning light in a wireless LCD screen. Pretty cool huh?
Often right-handed people brush more on the right side. It's just easier to do. On the left side, they brush less -- and less effectively. In the lower front, they don't brush well at all – sometimes fewer than 10 total strokes. With electric toothbrushes, the brush triggers a sound every 30 seconds to let you know to change quadrants. This allows 15,000 strokes to be distributed evenly and focused in each part of your mouth.
Some electric toothbrushes have UV sterilizers in which to place the brush heads to kill germs and minimize the chances of re-infection. Strep throat or influenza can hide in the moist bristles of the brush and may re-infect you down the road. Also, in small bathrooms, flushing a toilet can spread some very infectious bacteria quite a distance. These problems are a bigger concern for young children or the elderly who have weaker immune systems.
While all five of these are solid reasons to make the switch to an electric toothbrush, the most compelling recommendation is that high-quality electric brushes have a vibration that can actually disrupt bacteria beyond the tip of the bristle. Bacteria have fragile filaments they use to move around and gather food. The high-frequency vibration tends to shatter these structures, leaving the bacteria disabled. They suffer quite a setback for about six to eight hours after brushing.
This is important because most people are not good flossers and the ones who are don't do the best job of it most of the time. While there is no substitute for good flossing, the vibration from the electric brushes provides a significant improvement for most patients. I tell my patients that you can scrub all day with a hand brush, but it’s where those bristles don't reach – in between the teeth – that most problems start. Electric brushes are not a substitute for good flossing, but they are certainly dramatically better than not flossing at all or doing so intermittently.
The electric toothbrush really eliminates a lot of the things we do wrong or poorly in our daily oral-care routine, and does them right with just the press of a button. Lastly, don’t buy just any electric brush from the store. Ask your dentist for his or her recommendation, because some types are significantly better than others.