Consumer Wise: Are electric toothbrushes worth the cost?

By Angie Moreschi, Consumer Wise Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 5:12 AM EST

In the battle to keep your teeth and gums healthy, electric toothbrushes get rave reviews from dentists.

“Less red gums, less bleeding gums; the results we see on our patients are undeniable,” said Tampa dentist Dr. Tim Muscaro.

Muscaro says electric toothbrushes are simply much more efficient than using your hand.  The two main types are oscillating, with a rotating brush and sonic, with a brush that vibrates side-to-side. Oscillating brushes have anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 strokes per minute and sonics have about 30,000 strokes per minute—compared to about 300 strokes per minute by hand.

“It just emulsifies the plaque. Blasts it off,” Muscaro explained. “Where, if you get it really well with your hand using a regular toothbrush, you can get it all off, but you’re not gonna be nearly as efficient.”

Valdy DoBrila, a patient of Dr. Musarco’s, has been using an electric toothbrush for more than a decade and says he sees a big difference in his oral hygiene.

“I love it.  It just feels smoother. It feels cleaner,” DoBrila said. “As soon as I started using it and went back to the dentist, the dentist was like, right away, ‘Your gums look so healthy.’”

Is the cost worth it?

Cost is the biggest downside to electric toothbrushes. 

“It is very expensive, and the brushes are not cheap,” DoBrila said.

For a simple, disposable, battery operated toothbrush, expect to pay about $10 to $20.  You’ll pay quite a bit more when you get into the higher quality, rechargeable kind.  They start at around $40 and go all the way up to more than $200. 

“It is expensive,” agreed Mark Felberg, another Muscaro patient whose entire family uses electric toothbrushes. “I went to Sam’s Club and got a two for one special,” he said laughing, “but hopefully, I pay less in dental costs.

The expensive ones have lots of extra features like a charging station, travel case, and automatic timer.

“We like the timing of it, because basically, it tells you when to do the different parts of your mouth, and then also when you’re done,” said Felberg.

Whether you buy the cheap ones or expensive, Muscaro says both work better than manual toothbrushes, because you miss fewer spots brushing.  As for oscillating vs. sonic, he says either is fine. It’s really just personal preference. 

Good for kids

When it comes to kids, who are notoriously bad brushers, Muscaro says electrics tend to be very beneficial.

“Kids brush for like 10 seconds, right? Well, these have built-in timers. So they run and stop at two minutes (the recommended brushing time),” he explained. “If you have a timer, you wait for it to go off, so now you’re getting all the surfaces, and you’re putting in the proper time.”

He especially likes them for kids with braces to help get the plaque and tarter off from underneath the metal.

Learn new brushing technique

Using an electric toothbrush does take some getting used to.  Instead of brushing up and down and back and forth the way you do with a manual brush, you’re just supposed to hold the electric toothbrush on your teeth and let it do all the work.

“Yeah, at first, I didn’t feel like I was brushing my teeth,” DoBrila said. “You have to get out of the habit of really brushing and just kind of move it slowly over your teeth, but after you rinse, it just feels so much cleaner.”

If you don’t want to spend the extra cash for an electric, brushing the old-fashioned way powered by your hand also gets the job done-- if you brush the right way.  That means hit every tooth-- front and back, brush at least twice a day, and for the full, recommended two minutes.