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To Power or Not to Power, That is the Question:

Powered Toothbrushes versus Manual Toothbrushes

Jen Bachman

It has names like Triumph, Hummingbird, Vitality, and Elite. You may ask what medical instrument could have such amazing and praise worthy offshoots? The answer: the powered toothbrush, also known as the electric toothbrush. Introduced in the 1960s, the powered toothbrush as opposed to the manual toothbrush, uses battery power to muscle a rotating brush head.

Just how great are they?

            Numerous claims have been made about the purpose of this amplified toothbrush and the power of the oscillating head and specially designed bristles. At its most basic level, it is asserted that the powered toothbrush has the ability to remove more plaque. The Sonicare website even claims that the toothbrushes in the Elite e900 series are so advanced that “you can tailor your brushing to your own unique needs”; something a manual toothbrush would not be able to do ( In addition, the Oral-B website not only claims that the powered toothbrush called Triumph literally “triumph(s) over ordinary brushing” but it also help you “achieve cleaner, whiter teeth and healthier gums than you ever thought possible” ( With claims like that why would a individual not want to buy such a toothbrush?


Look Who’s Talking:

            But are these claims really true? Of course Oral-B, and Sonicare would make these claims. After all, these two companies are the leading producers of powered toothbrushes, so of course they would say remarkable things about their products. And these million dollar companies are also smart enough to conduct or financially support experiments that miraculously demonstrate the superiority of their products.

As consumers, should we be more skeptical about powered toothbrushes? Perhaps we are just a gadget-crazed country and we only think the powered toothbrush is superior because in our eyes they are more technologically advanced. To get to the bottom of this issue and explore whether powered toothbrushes are better plaque removers and fighters than manual toothbrushes, it is necessary to examine independent research and studies.

The down and dirty on powered cleaning machines:

Overall are powered toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes?

            The Cochrane Collaboration Oral Health Group, which is a nonprofit organization that provides “peer-reviewed, systematic assessments of clinical data” (Niederman), conducted a meta-analysis study of the cleaning effectiveness of manual versus powered toothbrushes. Released in 2003, this report was based on 29 studies, which were picked based on inclusion criteria, such as the experiments had to be longer than 28 days and had to use a randomized design. Together these studies were representative and included over 2,500 subjects. Results from this systematic review revealed that “there was a wide range in plaque and gingivitis reduction among the powered toothbrushes” but overall, “powered toothbrushes with a rotation-oscillation action achieve a significant, but modest, reduction in plaque and gingivitis compared with manual toothbrushes” (Niederman). So, maybe the producers of powered toothbrushes were not lying; their products really are superior when it comes to plaque and gingivitis reduction.

Numerous other studies have supported these conclusions. For example, in a study by Warren, Ray, Cugini, and Chater (2000), it was found that “the power toothbrush was considered by dental professionals to have had a positive effect on the oral health of 80.5 percent of their patients”. However, let’s take this one step further.

Are powered toothbrushes safe and effective for kids?

            In a study conducted by Grossman and Proskin (1997), the efficacy and safety of the Braun Oral-B Plaque Remover for Kids (Braun AG), a powered toothbrush specifically designed for kids, was compared to children’s manual toothbrush. Thirty-two children ages eight to twelve years were used as subjects in this study. The study lasted two weeks, one week of which the children used a manual toothbrush and the other week they used the powered toothbrush. The children were given instructions on how to use both toothbrushes, and whole mouth plaque was assessed before the experiment began and then after each week. The assessor in this experiment was considered blind in his judgments in that he did not know which brush each child had been using the prior week. The assessments and plaque grading scores revealed “significantly greater plaque removal at all sites in the electric toothbrush group” (Grossman, p.471). Specifically, “the mean plaque removed by the electric toothbrush exceeded that removed by the manual brush at least 41 percent” (Grossman, p.472). Wow, so while powered toothbrushes were modestly more effective for adults, they seem to be significant plaque and gum disease fighters for kids.

            Why are powered toothbrushes so much more effective for kids? The answer lies in children’s dexterity and motivation. When using a manual toothbrush it has been found that “5-year-olds can reach only 25 percent of toot surfaces, and even 11-year olds can reach only 50 percent of the surfaces” (Grossman, 472). It has been empirically implied that the powered toothbrush can help children overcome their dexterity based limitation and help them achieve a healthier smile. This ability to overcome physical limitations can also be generalized to all individuals suffering from physical impairments. In fact, Kimberly Harms, an American Dental Association consumer advisor noted, “powered devices can help people who have trouble physically moving their brushes around their mouth to clean all teeth surfaces … these may include anyone with a motor disability or arthritis” ( Personally, I saw this point ring true after my grandpa suffered a stroke and switched to a powered toothbrush because it was easier for him and allowed him to brush his teeth more thoroughly and in less time.

 In addition, “it has been recognized for some time that electric toothbrushes can have a motivational effect, through what has been described as their ‘gadget appeal’” (Grossman, 473). Accordingly, the powered toothbrush is much more effective and even advantageous for children, or those physically impaired, in comparison to the manual toothbrush.

It’s all about the Benjamin’s, the financial picture.

            So even if the powered toothbrush is better at cleaning your teeth, is it still financially worth it? At face value, powered toothbrushes are much more expensive than manual toothbrushes. For example, at Target, you can buy the Philips Sonicare Elite 7500 Toothbrush, a powered toothbrush, for $139.99 (  In fact, it has been stated that “today the cost of a powered toothbrush can be more than triple of a manual one” ( However, as opposed to having to replace manual whole toothbrush every three months or so, only the head of the powered toothbrush has to be replaced. So, in the long run the investment in a powered toothbrush may pay off. Further, “at 6,000 to 30,000 strokes per minute, the mechanical brushes appear to provide more power per dollar compared to manual ones” ( Lastly, with its powered cleaning ability, powered toothbrush users do not have to spend as much time brushing as manual toothbrush users, and in this fast paced world, time is money. Thus, even though the powered toothbrush is more costly on the front end, its benefits are worth it.

Drum roll please ….

            In conclusion, throw out your manual toothbrush and exchange it for a powered one. The effects of powered toothbrushes are not a manifestation of our imagination and love for gadgets, rather it has been proven. While, I did not find any research that a powered toothbrush will necessarily lead to your teeth being shades brighter, the three studies that I based my conclusion on made it clear that powered toothbrushes will help in the reduction of plaque and gingivitis.




Grossman, E., & Proskin, H. (1997). A comparison of the efficacy and safety of an

            electric and a manual children. The Journal of the American Dental Association,

            128(4), 469-474.

Niederman, R. (2003). Manual versus powered toothbrushes: The Cochrane review. The

            Journal of the American Dental Association, 134(9), 1240-1244.

Warren, P.R., Ray, T.S., Maryann, C., & Chater, B.V. (2000). A practice-based study of a

power toothbrush:  Assessment of effectiveness and acceptance. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 131(3), 389-394.






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