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Yes, electric toothbrushes really are a must-have for better oral health, dentists say

'They take the guesswork out of brushing,' according to one expert — but that doesn't mean you have to overspend.

You may have heard that electric toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes — but they're also more expensive, and you have to worry about either replenishing batteries or keeping them charged up. So we wanted to know why professionals say electric is the way to go, and what makes it worth the investment to take our oral hygiene high-tech.

Do dentists recommend using electric toothbrushes over manual toothbrushes?

Dr. Erin Fraundorf, owner of BOCA Orthodontic + Whitening Studio outside of St. Louis, said she recommends electric toothbrushes over manual brushes because they make it much easier to thoroughly clean your teeth.

"While the American Dental Association states that both electric and manual toothbrushes are effective at removing oral plaque that causes decay and disease, this is only if you use the precisely proper technique and brush long enough, which is definitely easier said than done," Fraundorf said.

The average person using a manual toothbrush doesn't brush long enough or with the right amount of pressure, Fraundorf said. But failing to achieve the right balance can "lead to gum recession and damaged tooth enamel" and even "compromise plaque removal," she added.

That's where electric toothbrushes come in. "They take the guesswork out of brushing," Fraundorf said. "Generally, an electric toothbrush makes brushing easier, resulting in better plaque removal and reduced gingivitis." As a bonus, most have a pressure sensor that tells you whether you're brushing too hard or not hard enough, she said.

Woman using an electric toothbrush
Electric toothbrushes come with pressure sensors and timers that help ensure a much more thorough clean, dentists say. (Getty)

What else makes an electric toothbrush worth the investment?

Not only do electric toothbrushes help improve overall dental and gum health, but they're better for folks who may have mobility issues such as carpal tunnel and arthritis, or for kids who are still developing their dexterity, Fraundorf said.

Even if mobility isn't an issue, your budget probably is — and electric toothbrushes might actually save you money in the long run.

"While electric toothbrushes may be more expensive initially than manual toothbrushes, you will undoubtedly save more money over time," Fraundorf said. "Replacement toothbrush heads are very affordable" compared with swapping out your manual toothbrush several times a year, she said. "Also, because brushing is more effective with an electric toothbrush, it greatly reduces the likelihood of financially expensive dental procedures."

Dr. Ilona Casellini, a Los Angeles-based dentist, said that using an electric toothbrush helps ensure you correctly brush your teeth for as long as they need it. "Most electric toothbrushes on the market have a set timer. This forces us to continue brushing for the allotted time til the brush turns off on its own," she said.

Casellini points out that we're supposed to brush our teeth for a minimum of two minutes, two times a day. But that's often not the case: "People who use a manual toothbrush only brush for about 30-40 seconds," she added.

What electric toothbrush should shoppers buy?

Dr. Kemia Zeinali of Dreamhouse Dental near Los Angeles said that while there can be differences between affordable and premium electric toothbrushes like durability, advanced technology and brand reputation, there are still effective options that won't break the bank.

"There are several affordable electric toothbrushes that offer excellent performance and functionality," she said. "One option that is often recommended is the Oral-B Pro 1000. It is a reliable and budget-friendly electric toothbrush that provides a thorough cleaning experience."

The Oral-B Pro 1000 "features oscillating and rotating movements, a built-in timer and a pressure sensor to help you maintain proper brushing technique," Zeinali said — all essential features that can help boost your oral health.

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Zeinali also recommends this affordable option from Philips Sonicare, which she says is a "trusted brand" known for its reliable oral health products. "This electric toothbrush utilizes sonic technology to provide gentle yet effective cleaning," she said. "It features a built-in timer, a pressure sensor and a variety of brush head options."

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Fraundorf said that whatever your budget, the right electric toothbrush "should last you years and only need the brush head changed every three months." Shoppers who don't mind spending a bit more can check out the Oral-B iO Series 9 — Fraundorf says it's a standout because it gives "a professional-like clean that makes you feel like you just got your teeth cleaned at the dentist."

This premium model comes with four brush heads and a travel case, plus it has a visible pressure sensor and a two-minute timer — features that Fraundorf says are key. Additional bells and whistles include a companion app, seven cleaning modes and position detection that helps ensure you're cleaning all areas equally well.

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All in all, choosing the right toothbrush is subjective. While considerations including battery life, settings, design and price are important, so is this: "Does the toothbrush get you excited about brushing your teeth?" Casellini said.

How do you brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush most effectively?

While Fraundorf said using an electric toothbrush will give you a more well-rounded cleaning from the get-go, she shared three key tips for getting the most out of your investment.

Use the correct brushing technique

According to Fraundorf, you need to hold the toothbrush at the right angle so you can effectively clean both your teeth and gums. "A huge mistake people make is holding their toothbrush straight on, which cleans the teeth but not the gums," she said. "To disrupt the bacteria and plaque buildup you have in between your teeth and the gums, you need to hold your brush head at a 45 degree angle so the bristles can reach below the gum line."

Replace your toothbrush head regularly

Some folks forget to change their electric toothbrush heads after the recommended three months. Fraundorf recommends following this rule or changing them even sooner "if you are sick or notice the bristles are frayed or splaying open." Compromised bristles won't effectively clean your teeth and gums, she said.

Let the electric toothbrush do the hard work

One of many misconceptions about electric toothbrushes is that they should be used as aggressively as manual ones. Since electric models are specifically made to achieve a deeper clean, you don't need to move them around as much. "Set the brush on one or two teeth at a time and let the toothbrush do the work," Fraundorf said. "You don't need to move your hand in a brushing motion like you do with a manual toothbrush. With an electric, you should simply hold the brush in place at the proper pressure and slowly work your way around your mouth."