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Updated: Thu, 07/18/2024 - 18:12

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La réouverture graduelle du campus du centre-ville se poursuit. Complément d'information : Direction de la protection et de la prévention.

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Are Electric or Manual Toothbrushes Better?

Brush up on the debate for a smile that wins.

The first ever toothbrush design, used by ancient Babylonians and Egyptians, dates back to 3500 BC. The primitive toothbrush, known as a “chew stick”, was a thin twig with a frayed end. The modern toothbrush was designed by William Addis in England and was the first mass-produced toothbrush, entering the market in 1780. Its handle was carved from cattle bone and the bristles were made from pig’s hair. Quite the luxury upgrade from twigs, wouldn’t you say? Fast forward to the 1960s, when the electric toothbrush was introduced. Electric toothbrushes continue to evolve with many different models to choose from. We have also come a long way with manual toothbrushes having straight, angled, and curved handles with grips making them easier to hold, and bristles ranging from very soft to harder versions.

Toothbrushing is undoubtedly an essential part of everyone’s daily routine, or at least we hope it is. It is important for oral health because it removes plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth which is the primary culprit behind tooth decay and gum diseases. Gingival inflammation, or gingivitis is an early stage of gum disease characterized by swollen gums that may bleed during brushing. Regular toothbrushing plays a vital role in reducing the risk of serious dental issues. With the advancement of toothbrush designs, there is much controversy as to whether the electric toothbrush is more effective than a manual toothbrush in removing plaque and improving gingival condition.

The design of electric toothbrushes aims to make brushing more effective and user-friendly. The two major types that dominate the market are oscillating-rotating (O-R) and sonic toothbrushes. O-R brushes feature small, round heads that rotate in one direction and then the other, mimicking the cleaning action of professional dental tools. Sonic toothbrushes use high-frequency vibrations to create “fluid dynamics” that help remove plaque even in hard-to-reach areas by agitating fluids in the mouth, extending cleaning beyond bristle contact areas. Electric toothbrushes often come with additional features like pressure sensors, timers, and various brushing modes. These features enhance their efficacy, particularly in difficult-to-access areas, and make them suitable for individuals with limited manual dexterity.

The main advantage of a manual toothbrush is its simplicity and accessibility. They are inexpensive, portable, and require no power source. However, its efficacy largely depends on the user's brushing technique and diligence.

Several randomized clinical trials have assessed the efficacy of various types of toothbrushes in patients, focusing on plaque removal and gingival inflammation as areas of interest. The consensus from these studies is that electric toothbrushes often show statistically significant benefits over manual brushes in at least one area of interest. However, the overall difference is usually not large enough to have substantial clinical significance. In essence, both electric and manual toothbrushes can achieve adequate plaque removal and gingival health if used correctly and consistently. It is also worth mentioning that many studies conclude that professional dental care and instruction on how to brush correctly is more important than toothbrush design. This highlights the importance of brushing technique as well as personalized recommendations from dental professionals based on your oral health needs.

Ultimately, the choice between an electric and manual toothbrush often comes down to personal preference. Some people may prefer the tactile feel and control of a manual toothbrush, while others appreciate the technological advantages of an electric toothbrush. Whichever you use, happy brushing!


Hosna Akhgary is a BSc candidate at McGill University, majoring in Pharmacology.

Part of the OSS mandate is to foster science communication and critical thinking in our students and the public. We hope you enjoy these pieces from our Student Contributors and welcome any feedback you may have!

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