Dr. Jack Sahlaney, DMD
South Hills Village
Suite 205
Pittsburgh, PA 15241
Sahlaney Orthodontics

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Is It Time To Go Electric With Your Toothbrush?

By Dr. Jack J. Sahlaney, D.M.D., M.D.S.

I was arranging the magazines in my office recently and noticed a full front page advertisement for an electric toothbrush, prompting me to think this would be a pertinent topic to review. As the holidays approach, an electric toothbrush may be a gift you can consider for someone on your list. That is, if these toothbrushes really are effective.

The purpose and goal of toothbrushing is to prevent dental decay and gum disease. The majority of the dental problems people experience are tooth decay (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease, and bad breath. These are caused by dental plaque or the bacteria found in dental plaque. This is why brushing your teeth three-to-four times a day for at least two minutes, along with seeing your dentist/ hygienist two times a year, is important in removing and preventing the build-up of dental plaque around your teeth. Unfortunately, people are often not self-disciplined enough to brush their teeth as recommended. Research has shown that individuals on average brush their teeth for less than one minute at a time and less than two times a day. This leads us to our next question.

Are electric toothbrushes as effective as manual toothbrushes in removing dental plaque?

A 2002 study showed that electric or powered toothbrushes are more effective than manual toothbrushes in the removal of dental plaque. There is no skill level required when using an electric toothbrush, and one study found that the electric toothbrush removed more dental plaque in 2 minutes than a manual toothbrush in 6 minutes. The literature shows that an electric toothbrush is as effective, and actually more effective, in removing dental plaque than a manual toothbrush.

Three of the most popular electric toothbrushes today are the Sonicare by Philips Oral Healthcare, the Braun Oral-B oscillating/pulsating rotary electric toothbrush, and the Rota-Dent rotary electric toothbrush by Professional Dental.

The cleaning action of the Sonicare is based on two mechanisms. The primary mode of cleaning is produced by the scrubbing action of the brush’s bristles on the surfaces of the teeth. This action is similar to all electric and manual toothbrushes. The secondary cleaning action is produced by the intense speed at which the bristles of the sonic toothbrush vibrate. This vibrating motion is able to impart energy to the oral fluids or saliva, which in turn is capable of dislodging dental plaque from the teeth. This ability is unique to the Sonicare toothbrush. The brush of the Sonicare is similar in size and shape to a conventional manual toothbrush.

The Braun Oral-B oscillating/pulsating electric toothbrush is similar in appearance to a cleaning instrument used by your dentist and hygienist. The brush head is round and oscillates back and forth. The Oral-B electric toothbrush has also incorporated a pulsating action. The Oral-B does not possess the fluid dynamic cleaning properties but has been proven effective in removing dental plaque. This toothbrush was made to imitate the dental cleaning instrument used by dental professionals.

The Rota-Dent electric toothbrush is a single rotating tuft of bristles. The Rota-Dent toothbrush provides two types of brush heads. A pointed brush head to be used between the teeth and a cup-shaped brush head to be used to clean the tooth surfaces. The Rota-Dent can only be purchased through a dental professional. These brushes provide a life time warranty and are slightly less in cost than most other electric toothbrushes.

There are a few things to consider when buying an electric toothbrush:

Timers: Some electric toothbrushes have a timer which informs you at one or two minute intervals. This is a nice feature because the brush alerts you to the duration of brushing which is important in removing dental plaque.

Power settings: Some electric toothbrushes have a power setting of low and high. An electric toothbrush is most effective on the high setting, but some individuals require a lower setting due to the conditions of their gum tissue. Please consult your dentist and/or periodontist about power settings.

Multiple Users: Brush heads attached to the bases are usually easy to change and come in different colors to prevent confusion amongst users. Some electric toothbrush manufacturers offer two bases so you do not have to change the brush heads.

Cost: The cost will vary depending on the brand, model, and the features the electric toothbrush provides. Most dental professionals will carry electric toothbrushes at a reduced price compared to the department stores. The toothbrushes mentioned here come with warranties.

Electric toothbrushes have been shown to be a great tool in cleaning the teeth. The main thing to remember is that you have to use it in order for the brush to be effective. Brushing is about frequency and duration. I own and use an electric, in conjunction with a manual toothbrush, as does my staff. Some use the Sonicare, some the Oral-B, and others use the Rota-Dent. This is a personal preference. I do know that my electric toothbrush is more effective in cleaning my teeth around the gum tissue. The electric toothbrush does seem to motivate individuals to brush. It does not replace flossing, but it is an effective tool against dental plaque which causes cavities, gum disease, and bad breath.

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