The earliest toothbrushes consisted of animal hair on a bamboo or bone handle—so it’s safe to say they’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. But one of the most significant advancements in brushing technology has been the electric toothbrush. They automatically rotate or vibrate against the teeth and, according to some studies, they’re better at removing plaque and preventing gingivitis than manual brushes.
But you can only reap those benefits if you use your electric toothbrush the right way. That’s why we’ve assembled this guide. It’s got everything you need to know about choosing, using, and cleaning your electric toothbrush.
Table of Contents
How Do Electric Toothbrushes Work?
Electric toothbrushes use a small, battery-powered motor to move the brush head in a side-to-side or rotating motion, depending on the model you get. They typically come with a charger, and the heads are replaceable, so you can keep the base and get a new head every 3–4 months—or sooner, if your bristles wear out or you get sick.
Since electric toothbrushes move faster than manual ones, they can produce more strokes per minute. Their motions replicate proper brushing techniques, removing plaque and food particles that can encourage harmful bacteria growth and cause cavities, gingivitis, and other oral health concerns.
Some models come with different brushing modes, mobile apps to track your habits, two-minute brushing timers, and pressure sensors that warn you if you’re brushing too hard.
How to Use and Electric Toothbrush
Most electric toothbrushes are pretty straightforward. They come with a base, a charger, and removable brush heads. Assembly just involves plugging in the charger, attaching the brush head to the base, and letting it charge. Charging typically takes 12–24 hours, and most brushes have a light that tells you when it’s fully charged. When that light comes on, you’re ready to brush.
Before you start, you’ll want to floss, which will loosen food particles, making them easier for the brush to remove. Rinse your brush head thoroughly and if your model has multiple modes, choose the one you want. If it also has a timer, you can set it just before you start brushing.
Just like you would with a manual toothbrush, hold your electric toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums. But because it does the brushing motion for you, there’s no need to scrub the bristles against your teeth or gum line. Simply move the brush from one tooth to the next, making sure to get the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces.
When you’ve brushed for the full two minutes, rinse your brush thoroughly in hot water and let it air dry. And you’ll want to brush twice per day for two minutes per session.
How to Choose the Right Electric Toothbrush
Maybe you’ve already decided to get an electric toothbrush, but this decision is more complex than electric vs. manual. There are a lot of brands and models out there, and choosing just one can be intimidating. If you’re unsure, you can always ask your dentist for a recommendation. Otherwise, here are a few things to consider.
Size and Shape
You’re going to use this toothbrush every day, twice a day, so you want one that’s comfortable and fits your mouth well. People with small mouths may opt for a compact brush head, while people with larger mouths may go for a full-sized head. Some adults even like using youth-sized toothbrushes. It all depends on your particular preferences.
There are two main types of electric toothbrush: oscillating and sonic. The heads of oscillating brushes are small and round. They rotate and sometimes pulsate in and out against each tooth.
Sonic brushes look more like a manual toothbrush head, and they vibrate back and forth. Sonic models make more brush actions per minute, so some dentists prefer them, but either kind can effectively dislodge and remove plaque.
Brush bristles come in soft, medium, and hard stiffness. Hard bristles might seem tempting if you think they’ll last longer or provide a better clean, but dentists actually recommend soft bristles for most people. That’s because hard bristles can wear down your enamel, especially if you brush too hard.
Ask your dentist for advice if you’re unsure, but you should be good to go with a soft-bristled brush.
Some electric toothbrushes have different modes that tailor the brush motions for sensitive teeth, deep cleaning, gum care, tongue cleaning, and more. Others have pressure sensors that tell you if you’re pressing too hard into your teeth or timers to ensure that you hit the full two minutes for each session.
Some models even have bluetooth connectivity and a mobile app that lets you track your brushing and see the teeth or sections you didn’t spend enough time on. Think about the features you’d find most useful before making your purchase.
The biggest downside of electric toothbrushes is their price. If you want a top-of-the-line model, you could spend up to $300. But that doesn’t mean all of them are expensive. You can get an electric toothbrush for $10 or less—it probably just won’t have any of the special features outlined above. But if you’re not picky, there’s a model for just about every budget.
How to Clean an Electric Toothbrush
Electric toothbrushes can effectively remove plaque and bacteria from your mouth, but it’s equally important to remove them from the brush itself, so proper maintenance and storage are key. Keep your brush upright on its stand (if it came with one) or in a toothbrush holder, out in the open air so it can dry completely.
Don’t put it in a drawer, cabinet, or closed container, where it will stay damp, allowing bacteria to survive. You also shouldn’t keep it right next to the toilet, if possible, since flushing sends microscopic particles into the air, and they can settle on your brush.
If you thoroughly rinse your toothbrush in hot water after each use, then let it dry completely, most bacteria won’t survive. But if you want to take additional measures, you can give it a few-minute (no longer than 15) soak in mouthwash or a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. You can also use denture cleansers or UV sanitizers. However, you shouldn’t put your brush in the dishwasher or microwave because they might damage it.
When to Replace an Electric Toothbrush
The American Dental Association recommends replacing your manual toothbrush or electric toothbrush head every 3–4 months. However, yours might wear out faster than that, depending on your brushing habits. Fortunately, certain signs are dead giveaways that it’s time to replace your brush.
The most common is frayed bristles. Your brush head’s bristles work hard to sweep away plaque and food particles, and over weeks and months, they can wear down. Eventually, they’ll fray and bend, which makes them significantly less effective.
If you notice your brush’s bristles flaring outward, it’s time for a replacement. You should also either disinfect or replace your electric toothbrush head if it smells bad, since that could indicate an accumulation of bacteria. Do the same if you’ve been sick, since germs from the illness can hide in the bristles.
While the replaceable brush heads only last a few months, an electric toothbrush’s base can last a lot longer—around 3–5 years on average.
Electric toothbrushes are effective and convenient, designed to clean your teeth powerfully and consistently. Manual and electric toothbrushes can both be highly effective with proper care and use, but choosing a specific model is a highly personal decision.
Ask your dentist for a recommendation if you’re unsure, but if you do your research and weigh your options carefully, you’ll end up with the perfect brush for your smile.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do electric toothbrushes actually clean better?
Certain studies have shown that electric toothbrushes are better than manual ones at eliminating plaque and reducing gingivitis. But that doesn’t mean manual brushes are ineffective. As long as you use them the right way, keep them clean, and brush regularly, either type of toothbrush can help you achieve excellent oral hygiene.
How much do electric toothbrushes cost?
They go for anywhere between $20 and $300, depending on the brand, model, and features. But that doesn’t include the cost of the toothbrush head replacements, which you’ll need to change out every three months. They typically come in multi-packs, but usually cost around $2–$10 per head.
Can electric toothbrushes damage your teeth?
As long as you use it correctly, an electric toothbrush won’t damage your teeth. Just make sure you’re following the instructions carefully, brushing gently, and using the correct bristle firmness (soft for most people).
How long do electric toothbrushes last?
The replaceable heads last around three months—about as long as a manual toothbrush. The average lifespan of the base is 3–5 years, although they can sometimes last longer with proper care.
How long should you brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush?
The same as you would with a manual toothbrush: two minutes. Some electric toothbrushes even have built-in timers to help you know when to stop.
How do I choose an electric toothbrush?
Your budget is an important factor, since they can range from $20 to over $300. But you should also consider the size of the head and which brushing motion—rotation or back-and-forth—is more comfortable for you, as well as the features you want. Some have multiple brushing modes and some have a pressure sensor that warns you if you’re brushing too hard. If you’re struggling to decide, you can always ask your dentist or orthodontist for their recommendation.
Are electric toothbrushes safe for children?
Yes, they’re typically safe for children ages three and up. You’ll just want a brush designed specifically for children to ensure that the head is the right size and shape for your child’s mouth.
How long does the battery last?
If you brush for two minutes, two times per day, a fully charged electric toothbrush should last you around two weeks.