Battle of the Brushes: Manual VS Electric

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We all know that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to your teeth. Wanting the finest for our teeth, we search for the best gadgets to aid us in making sure our pearly whites are nice and healthy. The most often used tool, and thus your tooth’s best friend, is the handy dandy toothbrush. But when it comes time to select your toothbrush of choice, the wide array of choices sitting on the shelf or available on the net can be very, very overwhelming. Looking at the dilemma from the macro-level, I think the most common fork in the road occurs where we have to choose between a manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush. Here, I will review the pros and cons of both options, and then talk about which one I myself choose to use, and why.

WHO COULD BENEFIT FROM AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH?

When patients come to me and ask if they need an electric toothbrush, many of them are surprised when I tell them that the answer is no. There are a few groups of people who could benefit from an electric toothbrush, but it is not necessary for everyone to have in order to maintain good oral health. Electric toothbrushes greatly benefit people with Parkinson’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other such conditions that could impair one’s ability to hold and maneuver a toothbrush. Spinning and vibrating (and whirling and twirling) bristles are really great at restoring one’s manual dexterity when it has been lost. However, if you do not have any existing conditions that impair movement, then there is likely no need for an electric toothbrush at all.

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AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH DOES HAVE ITS LIMITATIONS

An electric toothbrush is useful because you’ve got this machine that moves in certain directions to remove the sticky plaque building up on your teeth, but it does have its limitations. Usually, the direction that a toothbrush head spins or vibrates is singular. With manual toothbrushes, you can vary the direction of your brushing at any time, which can be more effective. For example, if your teeth are slightly crooked, an electric toothbrush that only spins in a clockwise direction may miss a particular spot that a manual toothbrush can reach by moving side to side, or up and down. Depending on where the tight corners in your particular dentition are, you can alter the same toothbrush to move different ways in order to reach very difficult areas. Also, the electric brushes are very strong, which some people are not aware of. Using them requires an even softer hand than using a manual brush. Even though the intentions are good, pushing down on an electric toothbrush can cause too much trauma on the gums, causing gum recession. We like gums as much as teeth, so this is no good. Therefore, using an electric toothbrush may seem easier, but easier does not always mean better.

THE TRUTH: MOST PEOPLE WOULD DO JUST FINE WITH A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

The truth of the matter is, most people would do just fine with a manual toothbrush. I understand that it takes some time (and practice) to learn how to use a manual toothbrush, but the same is true of anything else in your life. Once mastered, the chore becomes a habit, and habits are subconscious and therefore become easy. If you can put in the time and effort to learn how to use a toothbrush effectively, then a manual toothbrush would work equally as well as an electric toothbrush! But, if you do not want to put in the effort to learn how to properly yield a manual toothbrush, then yes, you can buy a gadget and it can do the work for you. It makes sense that the results of inefficient manual toothbrush techniques will be subpar with the results of a vibrating electric device. However, what most people do not understand is that learning how to brush really well can yield results that are as good, and sometimes even better, than your new gadget.

WHY I CHOOSE TO USE A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

On that note, most patients are surprised to learn that I myself choose to use solely manual toothbrushes. There are many reasons why I opt for the manual brushes. As an advocate of slower-living, a lover of nature and sustainable products, and a fan-girl of the lost art of doing things for ourselves, I am partial towards tooth brushing by hand. Manual toothbrushes give us sustainable product options that are more eco-friendly than their plastic vibrating counterparts. We have manual brushes on the market that are biodegradable, recyclable, or recycled themselves. It allows me to pick a product that is in line with my values and my intention of creating less waste. Additionally, I have more control with a manual toothbrush. I can move the bristles in directions that are good for my particular dentition and I can alter the pressures that I place on my gums a bit easier. And lastly, I find them to be much more cost-effective. My persona as the Debtist easily explains why cost-efficiency is important for me. From a dentist’s perspective, I understand that we can do just as well with a manual as we can with an electric one.

While electric toothbrushes do have their uses and are a huge help to those who need it, I believe we have gotten to a point where they may be a bit over-hyped (and possibly over-sold) for the sake of convenience. It’s an easy answer to the question, “How do I brush my teeth well?” Instead of teaching people to be better brushers, we are making them dependent on a tool to do the work for them, and the cost is more plastic being introduced into our environment at ever-increasing price as less and less people learn how to effectively brush. I tell patients all the time that we are responsible for our oral health, and we shouldn’t depend solely on spinning brush wheels. We need to take our oral health back into our own hands. Quite literally. And with that, the battle of the brushes continue.

Tooth Brushing Techniques With Bogobrush

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program for low-income communities. 

We all know that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to the dental office. There are many ways to prevent caries formation and periodontal disease, the most common of which are proper oral hygiene at home and consistent visits to the dentist for dental check-ups and cleanings. Off course, there are many tools one can use to implement oral hygiene at home. However, the tools are not as important as the methods with which we carry out our everyday oral hygiene. Hence, this short discussion on tooth brushing techniques.

People always see me at the dental office and ask me, “Hey Doc, do I need an electric toothbrush?” Well, that depends. Are you physically capable of brushing your teeth? If you are without Parkinson’s or Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other such conditions that could impair your ability to hold and maneuver a toothbrush, then I would venture that you do not need an electric toothbrush. Now, if the question you meant to ask was, “Could I benefit from an electric toothbrush?”, well, that depends too. If you put in the minimal time and effort to learn how to use a toothbrush effectively, then a manual toothbrush would work equally as well as an electric toothbrush. If you do not want to put in the effort to learn how to properly yield a manual toothbrush, then yes, you can buy a gadget that can do the work for you. It makes sense that the results of inefficient manual toothbrush techniques will be subpar with the results of a vibrating electric toothbrush. However, what most people do not understand is that the results of an efficient manual toothbrush can be as good, and sometimes even better, than your new gadget.

So, in an effort to save you some money, and to save the planet from unnecessary plastic devices, I am going to discuss tooth brushing techniques using my favorite, eco-friendly, socially-conscious Bogobrush.

How to hold your toothbrush.

Most people brush too hard. The point is not to be vigorous with brushing. I know that your intentions are good, and you are making all efforts to remove the plaque from your teeth as best as you can, but excessive forces while brushing can lead to recession of the gums, which can then unleash another set of problems such as teeth sensitivity. Dentists love gums as much as teeth, so we definitely do not want to do that! The root of the problem is usually in the way a person holds their toothbrush. Usually, I see people enclosing their entire fists around the handle, which increases the pressure they can exert on the gum tissue. Unfortunately, this is WAY too much pressure. You want to hold your toothbrush like a flute. Four fingers on the top and the thumb on the bottom. You will notice the vast difference in pressure, and your gums will be all the more happier about it.

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Tooth Brushing Techniques

There are multiple tooth brushing techniques! Some are good, some not so good, and some are entirely bad. The methods that I will discuss today are the Bass Method, Stillman Method, and Charter’s Method, the names of which are completely unimportant, but the techniques of which are instrumental. All three methods can be modified, which will also be discussed here. Lastly, there are a few subpar methods called the Fones Method and the Roll-Stroke Brushing technique, which could be useful in teaching children elementary brushing techniques, however, they are not entirely effective in plaque removal and require graduation from once the individual is capable. But first…

How NOT to Brush Your Teeth: The Horizontal Method

A lot of people brush their teeth in horizontal fashion. Meaning they move the toothbrush left to right, from the posterior teeth to the anterior teeth, back and forth over and over again. Typically the toothbrush is pointed directly at the teeth, without ever touching the gums, which is the first negative part about this technique. Plaque will tend to accumulate near the gum line, so we definitely want to focus in this area. However, it’s just as bad if the horizontal method was carried out while pointing the toothbrush at the gums. This method is one of the leading causes of abrasion lesions. This means that the back and forth motion scrapes away at the gums and causes recession of the gum tissue. And as we said earlier, we want nice healthy gums to be covering the roots of our teeth. In the past, this is the tooth brushing method that was taught, so I hardly blame anyone who still believes that this is the optimal technique. But my dear friends, times have changed. Hand in hand with the idea of brushing your teeth as hard as you can, we now know that this is not the ideal way to brush teeth.

Good Brushing Techniques:

So how DO we want to brush our teeth? Below are three methods of teeth brushing. The three methods may seem very similar, and a mixture of these techniques may be used. The one unifying link between these brushing techniques that I think is an important take-away is the fact that the toothbrush is angled towards the gum line at a 45 degree angle, always!

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  1. The Bass Technique

This is my favorite brushing technique and it is actually one of the most effective because of its ability to remove plaque underneath your gum line, which then helps prevent periodontal infection.

Method: Point the toothbrush towards your gum line (where your tooth and your gums meet) at a 45 degree angle.  Gently put enough pressure so that the bristles of the toothbrush enter the gingival sulcus, otherwise known as the space between the tooth and the gums. Create a vibrational movement using very very short back and forth strokes. You need to do 10-15 strokes per tooth (which is essentially what you pay an electric toothbrush to do for you). The important part is to do this vibrational motion without removing the bristles from the sulcus. After 10-15 strokes, you can move to the next tooth.

  1. The Stillman Technique

Method: This is very similar to bass technique with a slight modification. You will still point the bristles at a 45 degree angle towards the gum and place similar pressure. As you vibrate the toothbrush using short strokes, you move the toothbrush towards the occlusal surface (otherwise known as the top of the tooth). So in essence, you start at the gum line and move towards the tops of your teeth, while moving in this vibrating motion!

  1. The Charter’s Technique

Lastly, the Charter’s technique is used when there is an appliance in the mouth, such as braces!

Method: Think of the Charter’s technique as an inverted version of the Bass Technique. Instead of the toothbrush pointing at the gums, we want the toothbrush bristles to be pointing towards the occlusal surface of the tooth (or top of the tooth). The sides of the bristles should then be pushed up alongside the gums. The toothbrush should still be at a 45 degree angle. Vibrational movements are still used to remove the plaque.

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  1. Modified Versions of Techniques 1-3

The modified versions of all three techniques can be made, wherein one rolls the toothbrush towards the occlusal surface (or tops of the teeth) at the end of each vibrational sequence (Remember, 10-15 vibrational strokes per tooth!).

Brushing Techniques for the Young Learner

  1. Fones Technique

This technique is one of the subpar techniques that can be used to LEARN how to brush, in a very elementary sense, but is not extremely efficient in removing plaque. We teach this technique to children who are just learning how to brush their teeth.

Method: This technique is known as the circular brushing method. A toothbrush is placed on a set of teeth and is moved in a circular fashion a few times, before moving to the next set of teeth. It is important to understand that this method is only meant to be used to introduce people to brushing techniques.

2. Roll Stroke Brushing Technique

Similar to the Fones Technique, this technique is also subpar, but is simple and requires little practice, so it is usually used as an introduction to tooth brushing.

Method: Place the toothbrush towards the gums and swipe towards the occlusal surface of the tooth (the top of the tooth). Continue this movement until all teeth have been brushed.

Common spots you don’t want to miss!

It’s easy to forget about the backs of your teeth, but those are equally important as well. The back of your front teeth are where plaque and calculus tend to accumulate for most people, mostly because this area is so easily forgotten. Brushing the backs of anterior teeth can be very difficult, so here are some images to show how you can achieve the 45 degree angle in such a funky spot. Uncomfortable at first, but like everything else, it’ll fall right into “normal” after a few practice runs. Disclaimer: you have to brush the backs of anterior teeth with an electric toothbrush too!

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So there we have it! Tooth brushing techniques that will save you from needing an electric toothbrush, and the planet from unnecessary plastic.

To learn more about Bogobrush, check out a previous post here.

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Fun Fact: On average, a person should be replacing their toothbrush every 3-4 months. Once the bristles are splayed out, they are less efficient at removing plaque. Conveniently, Bogobrush has a subscription option that will automatically send your next toothbrush at a monthly interval of your choosing. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free.

As always, thank you for supporting those that support TheDebtist.