Brush your teeth for two to three minutes two times a day. Floss at least once a day. Don’t forget to scrape or brush your tongue. Use a mouthwash or rinse once a day, generally in the morning, and toothpastes that contain fluoride. Opt for water over sugary drinks. Consume a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Decrease your alcohol intake. Quit smoking or vaping. According to the Canadian Dental Association, these are all components of a good oral hygiene routine that will help us maintain the health of our teeth, mouths, and bodies (1).
When it comes to meeting some of these requirements, Canadians are falling short. In 2018, it was reported that around 78% of those aged 12 and older brush their teeth at least twice a day, while only 43% floss at least once a day. If we look at those who both brush and floss their teeth daily, this number decreases even further to about 38% (2).
Brushing and flossing are important practices that help with the removal of dental plaque. Have you ever run your tongue across your teeth and felt a ‘fuzzy’ sensation? That’s plaque—a sticky and invisible bacteria-filled film. If not removed daily and left to buildup, plaque can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and mild to severe gum diseases (3).
Although all aspects of oral hygiene are important, let’s zero in on the most common form of plaque removal, brushing our teeth (4). The market is currently flooded with manual and powered toothbrushes that help us engage in this activity. But is there a difference in how effective they are in removing plaque? A relatively recent systematic review looked at the evidence (5).
What the research tells us
The studies included in the review had participants—who were generally healthy adults with no periodontitis, treatments fixing the positioning of the teeth, dentures, or dental implants—brush their teeth with a single-headed manual toothbrush or a single-headed rechargeable powered toothbrush. The powered toothbrushes varied in how they moved or functioned, but the most commonly used types were oscillating‐rotating brushes and side-to-side brushes. With an oscillating-rotating mode of action, the head of the brush rotates in one direction and then another; but with a side-to-side mode of action, the head of the brush moves from side-to-side.
Ultimately, the review found that after a single brushing exercise, rechargeable powered toothbrushes may be slightly more effective at removing plaque than manual toothbrushes. A closer look at mode of action also demonstrates that both oscillating‐rotating and side-to-side powered toothbrushes are more effective than manual toothbrushes (5). While this review did not compare the two types of powered toothbrushes directly, another more recent review suggests that neither oscillating‐rotating powered toothbrushes nor side-to-side powered toothbrushes are better than one another at reducing plaque or gingivitis. This means their benefits may be comparable (4).
Do these results mean that we should replace our manual toothbrushes with powered ones? Not necessarily. The findings presented don't show that manual toothbrushes aren’t effective; they just demonstrate that powered ones may have slightly more benefits. So, take a pause before rushing to the bathroom to throw out your manual toothbrush. Instead, enjoy the fact that you have more oral health tools to choose from and a better chance of finding a product that meets your needs—such as those related to mobility, cost, assistance with brushing for the recommended amount of time, and more. Be it comparing the pros and cons of products online or seeking advice from an oral health professional, if possible, do your homework before committing to your next toothbrush.
Don’t forget, your oral health matters!