The electric toothbrush: an indispensable tool for superior dental hygiene, or an expensive waste?

As I sit here gently vibrating in a newly acquired massaging seat cushion, my brain is wrought with curiosity from what my dental hygienist said to me during my cleaning visit (you’ll understand the connection later). I regretfully admit, my omnipotent tooth-father, that my last teeth cleaning has been not only 6 months but perhaps 6 years. How many prayers must I recite to receive full penance for my unyielding dental negligence? As I wince while the hygienist forcefully scrapes the several pounds of plaque and soot and dryer lint and dead leaves that have been decoratively lining and subsequently corroding the enamel of my teeth, she suggests I use an electric toothbrush. I was adamant to ask her by how large of a degree are electronic toothbrushes advantageous to their hand-powered counterparts, but I had quite a bit of equipment securely lodged in the side of my mouth. Therefore, attempting to bolster my personal brushing habits was out of the question. I understand the condition of my teeth were not in any way admirable, but I think that is more due to not scheduling a cleaning in a half-decade more than using an inferior brushing method.

But I’m not here to berate my dentists, I’m here to present some evidence against the claimed superiority of the whirring and buzzing and vibrating electric toothbrush. Below, I have presented claims from two commercial toothbrush manufacturers and two peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Commercial Claims:

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According to Oral-B, ““Brushes that worked with a rotation oscillation action removed more plaque and reduced gingivitis more effectively than manual brushes in the short and long-term… No other powered brush designs were consistently superior…”* Oral-B pioneered this oscillating-pulsating and cupping power technology in 1991 and has incorporated it into its premium power toothbrush range ever since. Recently, it has also incorporated oscillating-rotating technology into entry tier (lower cost) options, like Oral-B Vitality.” The study was provided by Robinson, P.G. et al, and was not meant to endorse or be in any way affiliated with Oral-B products. Other reasons in favor of electric toothbrushes includes ease of use for the consumer. You needn’t strenuously brush back and forth repetitively (oh, the humanity!) because the brush head’s oscillation requires you to only guide it along the surfaces of your teeth. Electric, or power, toothbrushes may also be a better alternative for children or people with arthritis. They list some other features which, for all intents and purposes, do not provide reasonable evidence that this variety of toothbrush prevents tooth decay, cavities, or promotes dental hygiene more efficiently than regular toothbrushes.

Philips designed their website around bold action verbs and pictures of smiling individuals. They claim that “Philips Sonicare believes that good oral habits can and will help maintain your teeth for life” and “Philips Sonicare is based on innovative patented sonic technology. High frequency and high amplitude motions create a dynamic cleaning action that drives fluids deep into the tight spaces between your teeth and along the gum line, which results in a cleaner, healthier mouth”.

See evidence A: an electric toothbrush having a severe myoclonic seizure.

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Empirical Evidence:

This abstract references a study performed by Parizi et al. published in the International Dental Journal. This research, performed via a randomized clinical trial, compared an electric toothbrush (Jordan Power electric toothbrush) with two manual toothbrushes in their efficacy of controlling plaque build-up. Conclusions? The lower plaque indices obtained by the Jordan toothbrush compared to both manual toothbrushes were not statistically significant. Moreover, “The results of this study shows no evidence of statistically significant difference in respect to plaque control, between Jordan Power electric toothbrush and either of Oral-B Advantage or Panbehriz Classic manual brushes in a group of dental students after 2 weeks.” To clarify, when we speak of statistical significance, we mean that an experimental outcome or effect is due not just to chance alone.

This paper by Ganesh et al. published in the Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventative Dentistry outlines a study performed to test the effectiveness of a musical electric toothbrush for dental plaque removal. In their introduction, they reference previous studies on the differences. These studies concluded that the electric toothbrush was not superior to the manual brush. This current study, to briefly summarize the important take-away, concluded that the differences in reduction of clinical parameters between the electric and manual toothbrush were only statistically significant within a 30 and 60-day study period, and was non-significant at 90 days. However, the short duration of its effectiveness was due to children losing interest in brushing their teeth with a musical toothbrush after a certain period of time. Thus, after 90 days, usage of the musical toothbrush was similar in efficacy to that of a regular non-musical manual toothbrush.

I obviously haven’t done any of this research and only considered two published papers in this assessment. However, this will at least give you, the consumer, some grounding to form your own judgement of electric toothbrushes. I’ll stick to the manual kind.

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