We Americans – and in fact most people in the developed world – seem to think that technology is a magic bullet, improving every aspect of life with very little human input needed. Not so. From game consoles to electric toothbrushes, the amount of education and effort we put into a device directly reflects the value we get out of it.
World of Warcraft players rely on a 114-page manual and experience. Electric toothbrush users rely on online information sites like Oral Health, and their own experience using manual toothbrushes, to maximize their fight against tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.
Beyond that, the choice – electric or manual – is purely personal and depends more on consistency and correct technique than the availability of electricity. In fact, some studies suggest that electric toothbrushes may install a false sense of security about the health of teeth and gums.
“They may … lead to a false sense of accomplishment,” notes Eugene Antenucci, a DDS, clinical assistant professor at New York University College of Dentistry, and author of a recent study. “You may feel like you’re brushing better because you spent $60 on an electric toothbrush, even though you’re not.”
This old adage in the computer world, which stands for “garbage in, garbage out”, is reflected in attitudes about electric vs. manual tooth brushing as well. Only the input changes: effort instead of information.
For example, children may feel electric toothbrushes are more fun to use, thus more effective. This is not true, and in fact manual tooth brushing may deliver more “horsepower” to the average user, since our hands are more capable of macro-rotation and pressure than an electric toothbrush.
In addition, electric toothbrushes are less portable. Larger, more complicated, usually with two or more parts (including batteries), and requiring an electric outlet to operate – electric models of the old-fashioned bristle toothbrush may be impractical for after-lunch brushers, school children, and travelers to countries where electricity is not ubiquitous.
Types of Electric Toothbrushes
Consumers can buy a number of different kinds of electric toothbrush. The first, a rotary, operates in an alternating (left-to-right and vice versa) circular fashion at an amazing rotational speed of 3,000 to 7,500 strokes per minute.
A sonic toothbrush uses side-to-side motion rather than alternating left-to-right and provides an astonishing 31,000 brush strokes per minute – or 10 times as fast as the human hand can move.
Ionic toothbrush heads don’t move at all. Instead, a low electric current fights plaque, and the user contributes the brushing motion.
The Main Drawback
… Is cost. In today’s disposable-income-strapped economy, where Millennials make up a majority and exist on incomes Boomers would have regarded as unforgiveable, the price for an electric toothbrush can be as little as $2, for a battery-operated unit, to almost $900 for one model with a plug-in base unit.
Add to this the fact that brush heads need to be replaced at least as often as manual toothbrushes, and consumers find that a hefty chunk of change goes into their oral hygiene alone if they opt for electric.
The Main Advantages of an Electric Toothbrush
Electric toothbrushes do have several advantages that make them almost mandatory for certain users. One, they are much more gentle on teeth, so individuals with thinning or failing teeth enamel or eroding gums may want to ditch their manual toothbrush.
Individuals with arthritis, either from aging or as a disease process like rheumatoid arthritis, find electric toothbrushes easier to use. This means brushing benefits are actually maximized with an electric model.
For these individuals, Consumer Reviews – a major consumer products reporting agency – recommends a number of electric toothbrush models from manufacturers like Oral-B, Philips, Pursonic, and Panasonic.
A new kid on the block, the iBrush 365 from US-based iBrands Technologies, which boasts a circular brush head and a remarkable 15,600 micro-bristles for ultimate cleaning.