Manual Vs. Electric Toothbrush: Which Is Better?

We have all seen the compelling commercials for sleek, modern electric toothbrushes. You may even swear by them and insist that these gadgets make your smile shinier. Based on a report from Statista, over 100 million Americans used power toothbrushes in 2017. The manufacturers of electric toothbrushes often claim they remove plaque and debris from teeth more efficiently than the standard brush. On the contrary, users of the manual toothbrush argue that the standard product has worked well for decades and is an adequate cleansing instrument. This debate begs the question: Is an electric toothbrush truly better than the traditional manual toothbrush? At Dr. Cindy Flanagan’s Houston dental practice, we’re committed to answering all of our patients’ questions and helping them keep their teeth clean. In the following blog, we explain the pros, cons, and science of the manual and electric brushes to help you decide which is best for you.

Electric Toothbrush

Before we discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the electric toothbrush, it’s important to define exactly what the instrument  is. There are many kinds of electric toothbrushes, but their common denominator is the use of electricity or battery power to move the bristles over your teeth. The bristles may move back and forth, up and down, or in circles. Electric toothbrushes may have additional elements such as sonic waves to break up plaque.

Now that you understand the fundamentals of electric toothbrushes, we’ll discuss the merits and flaws regarding cost, cleaning effectiveness and ease of use.


Price is perhaps the most significant factor when deciding whether or not to purchase an electric toothbrush. The cost of these dental devices range from around $25 to over $100, depending on the model and included features. When considering the price, however, remember that the electric model will not need to be replaced nearly as often as the manual brush. Once you purchase the base unit for the electric toothbrush, you will typically need to purchase a new head for it just once every few months. Additional heads for electric toothbrushes are often sold in bundles and are usually inexpensive (i.e. 10 heads at a time for $10). Therefore, the difference between the cost of a manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush may not be extensive.

Cleaning Effectiveness

Electric toothbrush manufacturers claim that their products clean teeth with less effort and better results. Several studies have demonstrated their success in comparison to the manual toothbrush, but this issue still requires further research (see our section on scientific studies below for more information). Generally speaking, the current data shows that electric toothbrushes are superior to manual toothbrushes when it comes to the removal of plaque and cleaning teeth.

As with any wellness product, electric toothbrushes are only effective if they are used on a regular basis. Dr. Flanagan recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day and flossing once a day. Electric toothbrushes are not a substitute for a healthy oral hygiene routine. They also do not diminish the need for biannual professional cleaning and examination appointments at our office. If you haven’t had a preventive care visit at our Houston office in over six months, we recommend that you come in as soon as possible.

Ease of Use

A primary advantage of the electric toothbrush is its ease of use. There is no scrubbing necessary with these tools – align the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and let the powered bristles do the work. Because they are so easy to use, electric toothbrushes may be particularly beneficial for those with joint or muscular problems.

Many children find it easier and more fun to brush their teeth with an electric toothbrush. If you have difficulty getting your kids to brush with a regular toothbrush, an electric one could make dental care a much more enjoyable task. There are electric toothbrushes designed specifically for children, as well. These often come with special designs, built-in music, and other fun features.

The built-in timer that is often found on electric models is an excellent feature that lets you know how long to brush. These timers encourage you to brush your teeth for the full two minutes that the American Dental Association recommends. The timer will stop once you have brushed your teeth for the advised amount of time. Some electric toothbrushes even have notifications at 30-second intervals in order for you to spend an appropriate amount of time brushing each quadrant of your mouth.

A drawback of the electric toothbrush is that it requires regular charging or battery replacements. Electric toothbrushes are also less convenient to travel with than the manual version; they take up more space on-the-go and on your counter. In addition, electric toothbrushes may break easily if dropped and are more expensive to replace if lost.

Manual Toothbrush

It is likely that you have been using a manual toothbrush your whole life. What you may not realize is that as electric toothbrushes have evolved, manual toothbrushes have become more sophisticated as well. There is quite a wide selection of them available. When you pick out a manual toothbrush at the grocery store, you can pick the shape, size, depth, and softness of the bristles. You can also choose which type of handle best suits you, or even grab a brush with a tongue scraper on the back.

Much like we did with the electric toothbrushes, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of manual brushes in terms of cost, cleaning effectiveness, and ease of use.


Manual toothbrushes are much more affordable than their electric counterparts. In fact, you may even get them for free when you visit your dentist. Although manual toothbrushes should be replaced about every three months, their replacement cost is quite low – typically between $2 and $10. 

Cleaning Effectiveness

While studies have shown that electric toothbrushes are preferable for removing plaque, it is possible to thoroughly clean your teeth manually. If you choose the manual option, you’ll need to be more attentive as you clean your teeth. The American Dental Association suggests that you “brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush” that “[fits] your mouth allowing you to reach all areas easily.” When brushing, you should “place your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums, gently move the brush back and forth in short (tooth-wide) strokes, brush the outer surfaces, the inner surfaces, and the chewing surfaces of the teeth,” and, finally, “clean the inside surfaces of the front teeth, tilt the brush vertically and make several up-and-down strokes.” While an electric toothbrush may have an edge over a manual one, your oral health likely won’t suffer if you apply the right technique while cleaning your teeth.

Ease of Use

As discussed above, manual toothbrushes, like electric toothbrushes, offer many options for a plethora of needs. You can choose from a variety of styles, bristles, head sizes, and colors. Manual brushes are much easier to travel with, as you do not need to worry about batteries, units, or charging outlets.

The biggest drawback of the manual model is that it is more difficult to use.  With a traditional toothbrush, it is trickier to grasp how long you have been brushing for (most people overestimate how long they’ve brushed, causing them to brush for less time than the recommended two minutes). As mentioned before, a manual toothbrush could be hard to use for people with joint or muscular problems.

What Studies Say

When deciding between an electric and manual toothbrush, it’s beneficial to understand the science behind both. Ever since electric toothbrushes came on the scene, dentists and scientists have studied them to determine if they’re truly a superior alternative to traditional tools. In order to help you better understand this issue, we’ve summarized the results from several of the most important electric toothbrush studies:

·      A 2008 study published in the Journal of Clinical Dentistry found that “Elite [an electric sonic toothbrush] was significantly more effective than MTB [manual toothbrush] in the reduction of plaque after two and four weeks of product use, and significantly more effective in the reduction of gingivitis [the earliest stage of gum disease] and bleeding sites [in the gums when brushing] than MTB after four weeks,” suggesting that the electric toothbrush is more likely to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease.

·      A 2010 report in the European Journal of Pediatric Dentistry concluded, “With respect to the manual orthodontic toothbrush, the electric oscillating-rotating toothbrush was found to better improve both PI [plaque levels] and GBI [gingival bleeding].” If you have braces or are undergoing an orthodontic treatment like Invisalign, an electric toothbrush may be a particularly good choice for you.

·      In 2015, the Journal of Clinical Dentistry published a piece which found that a specific “electric toothbrush, relative to a manual toothbrush, provided an improved brushing experience for the fourteen users whose brushing techniques were evaluated by five dental hygienists [during a] usability study.” This speaks to the electric toothbrush’s ease of use.

·      A 2002 study published in The Angle Orthodontistevaluated electric toothbrushes for patients with fixed appliances (such as dental crowns, bridges, and other restorations). This report found “no measurable differences between the powered toothbrush with modified orthodontic brush head and a manual toothbrush with respect to…plaque, gingivitis, or interdental [between the teeth] bleeding by patients wearing fixed appliances.” This suggests that patients with dental crowns or other restorations may not enjoy the advantages of the electric toothbrush as much as others.

·      The Journal of Clinical Periodontology published a “systematic review” of other studies on electric toothbrushesand states, “The use of PDT [power-driven toothbrushes], especially counter-rotational and oscillating-rotating brushes, can be beneficial in reducing the levels of gingival bleeding or inflammation.” This report suggests that electric toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes, but also notes the need for further study of the topic.

·      A 2015 article from Consumer Reports noted: “An analysis of 56 studies published in 2014 by the international evidence-based research organization Cochrane found that electric models [of toothbrush] may have a slight edge” since “compared with electrics reduced dental plaque 21 percent more and gingivitis…11 percent more after three months of use.”

Generally, electric toothbrushes have favorable results in scientific studies when compared to manual toothbrushes. It is important, however, to consider all of the above factors as well as your oral health conditions when deciding which model is right for you.

Our Houston Dental Practice Can Help You Choose

Still not sure which toothbrush is right for you? Dr. Flanagan and her team are here to help you make these kinds of dental health decisions! Contact our Houston office today to discuss your options and schedule your next appointment.

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