It's electric: benefits of electric toothbrushes

By Emily Stewart.

Published on September 6th, 2017

Toothbrushes have come a long way since the pig and badger hair incarnations they were originally produced as. The first American electric toothbrush was created by General Electric in the 1960s (following Broxodent, a Swiss version from 1954). These bulky toothbrush electric were powered by batteries with only one life. In the 1990's OralB toothbrush released the first oscillating, rotating brush, beginning a long line of OralB electric toothbrush. Why the consistent upward movement in toothbrush invention? Scientists and dentists discovered that, when applied correctly, electric toothbrushes present major health and lifestyle benefits to users. Here's an overview of why to use an electric toothbrush and how it works.

That's a great smile.
Photo by SocalDental on Unsplash.

The cause: plaque

When sugar and starch are digested in the mouth, they cause a natural reaction with the bacteria in the mouth. If not removed quickly, these sugars and starches build to a transparent, sticky film on the teeth called plaque. Overgrowth of plaque layers upon itself to become tartar. Tartar creates a sort of protective shield for harmful mouth bacteria, which then burrows into the part of the gums closest to the teeth, called gingivia. Resultant inflammation, irritation, redness, and swelling of the gums is gingivitis. Plaque and tartar are also leading causes of cavities. While plaque can be removed with smart brushing, tartar can not.

The benefits: easy dental hygiene

When electric toothbrushes first rose in popularity it was within elderly populations, who enjoyed the wrist-friendly machines. Then younger children were encouraged to use electric toothbrushes, as they require less patience than normal brushes. Young and old alike also appreciated the soft touch of electric toothbrushes on sensitive gums. Today many types of people use electric toothbrushes for their clinically-acclaimed benefits and ease of use. Many people also use the electric version as a travel toothbrush, especially with modern charging technologies.

An electric brush operates with either sonic or electric vibrations. They are manufactured at a certain bristle angle that is most effective for cleaning teeth. The bristles vibrate in an oscillating, cupping, or pulsating way. This makes them highly effective at wiping away plaque without causing harmful abrasions. In fact, most electric toothbrushes are equipped with sensors that monitor when too much pressure is being placed on the teeth. Some are even made with extra soft toothbrush heads (Sonicare and OralB Braun electric toothbrush are both providers).

Gone are the days of costly single-use batteries. Modern electric toothbrushes are charged with reusable batteries that plug into wall socket docks. Brush heads are also easy to change; OralB toothbrush heads and others are equipped with an alerting mechanism that tells users when the toothbrush head needs to be replaced.

The type: electric or sonic

Consider this: when brushing normally, by hand, the average person completes 300 strokes in one minute. That’s less than 1/30th of the number of strokes per minute in the lowest-quality electric toothbrush! How does a rechargeable toothbrush operate so quickly?

There are two kinds of electric toothbrushes: sonic and electric toothbrush. Sonic brushes, like Philip Sonicare, vibrate at a much higher rate-- 30,000 to 40,000 strokes per minutes. They’re also softer on the gums and tend to be more technologically advanced, with timers, multiple brush head designs, pressure sensors, and often packaged with travel chargers and bathroom counter storage devices. Electric toothbrushes vibrate from 3,000-7,500 times per minute, meaning that the users need to brush lightly with their hands as well. They are often cheaper than sonic toothbrushes, like the Sonicare toothbrush models.

The method: how to use an electric toothbrush

While electric toothbrushes remove most of the guesswork from the brushing process, they require some strategy. Users are advised to spend 30 seconds lightly running the brush along the teeth in each quadrant of the mouth: upper right, lower right, upper left, lower left. Some electric toothbrushes have a timer that alerts users when their 30 second timeline passes.

Guide the brush around the surface of each tooth, following the shape of the tooth and gumline. It is not necessary to brush vigorously; press lightly to navigate the brush and the rest is done for you. Spend five to ten seconds on each tooth, tilting the brush head at a gentle 45-degree angle to the gum line. Be sure to include a brush of the tongue and roof of the mouth in this daily dental hygiene practice.

About the author

Emily Stewart calls herself a “Pi-Fit-Yogi,” teaching yoga, Pilates, and blended classes all around the world. You can reach her at

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