Our experts weigh the pros and cons of each type of toothbrush.

Many patients don’t realize just how important it is to use the right toothbrush. They typically rely on the sample they get after their 6-month dental visit or pick up a cheap option at their local grocery store. To them, all toothbrushes are basically the same, and they don’t see a reason to invest in an electric version.

While using a manual brush is, of course, better than nothing, many oral health care professionals want their patients to make the switch to electric. These brushes help ensure patients get their mouths as clean as possible—reducing their cavity risk and the likelihood they’ll develop gingivitis.

“I can typically tell when somebody uses an electric toothbrush versus a manual toothbrush just by looking at their oral health,” says Sarah Thiel, RDH, CEO and co-founder of CE Zoom. “Their gums look amazing, and I don’t have to do a lot during the appointment.”

Patients also can tell the difference when they switch to electric, Thiel says, but they won’t experience the benefits unless you provide them with the proper education and guidance. Once they understand what it can mean for their oral health as well as their overall health, most patients will be happy to make the extra investment in their smile.

Why your patients should go electric

Electric toothbrushes offer patients a variety of advantages, no matter their oral condition, says Tina Clarke, RDH. These brushes do the work for them, with many even featuring a timer to ensure patients brush for a full two minutes, as well as a pressure indicator light to let patients know when they’re brushing too hard and possibly damaging their gums. Clarke describes it as brainless brushing; all patients have to do is move the brush from tooth to tooth, whether they’re using Phillips Sonicare brushes that penetrate deep below the gum line to disrupt the bacterial environment or round Oral-B brush heads that oscillate in a half-circle motion to remove biofilm from the tooth surface.

“A lot of people are in a hurry and do a drive-by in the mouth,” says Anastasia Turchetta, RDH. “Electric toothbrushes give us a better chance of accomplishing what we need to do as hygienists, and that’s reducing inflammation, removing plaque and reducing hypersensitivity.”

Thiel recommends electric toothbrushes to every patient she sees. She always notices issues in the mouth that an electric brush can help improve, she says, including recession and sensitivity from improper brushing and gingivitis from not brushing at all.

Electric toothbrushes are also great options for children, especially if they have braces, Thiel says.

“Parents are spending a lot of money on orthodontic work, and if kids don’t brush correctly, they’ll end up with white boxes where the brackets are,” Thiel says. “That can only be fixed by putting on a crown, which can be pretty frustrating.”

Elderly patients with dexterity issues can also benefit from electric toothbrushes, Thiel says. Many older patients can’t move their hands the way they need to, so if they use a manual brush, they’re likely leaving plaque behind. An electric version cleans their teeth for them, so as long as they get it close to where it needs to be, it’s going to remove plaque and help prevent problems.