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Mechanical Toothbrushes Features and Considerations

Whether manual, battery powered or electric, there are many toothbrushes within each category to meet your oral health needs and personal preferences. Manual toothbrushes, ranging in cost from $.99 to $4, are the least expensive brushing option. Battery powered toothbrushes are usually only a few dollars more than manual toothbrushes, while rechargeable electric toothbrushes are the most expensive.

It is important to discuss your choice of toothbrush with your dentist. For the most benefit, the choice of brush will depend on your current oral health condition and how effective you are at maintaining your oral hygiene with your ultimate toothbrush choice.

Special Features

Many current electric toothbrushes have a timer designed to encourage brushing for two minutes that alerts users via buzzing, noise or a brief power interruption. Higher-end models may have an incremental timer that buzzes every 30 seconds, up to two minutes, that prompts the user to brush each quarter of the mouth in order to achieve a consistent clean in all areas. Some electric toothbrushes use liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. In addition to showing how many minutes you have brushed, these screens display smiley faces or other images to encourage further brushing. Some toothbrushes turn themselves off after two minutes.

Oral-B toothbrushes feature a built-in pressure sensor that stops the bristle movement when it detects that you are brushing too hard, something not found in many competitors' models. This feature — found in Oral B electric toothbrushes for adults and children — is helpful for individuals who are unsure of proper brushing techniques and how much pressure to apply, suffer from gum sensitivity, and/or experience pain or numbness. Over-brushing can have a detrimental effect on oral health, leading to structural damage and gum recession.

The Braun Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 5000 (approximate cost: $135) includes three brush heads (FlossAction, ProWhite, Sensitive), a massage mode and a separate wireless display monitor that tracks brushing time, signals when you are brushing too hard and when it's time to change your brush heads.

The Sonicare FlexCare with Sanitizer (approximate cost: $170) includes a built-in ultraviolet sanitizer that helps keep the toothbrush heads clean. In addition to a standard two-minute timer and a 30-second quadrant timer, the FlexCare has a one-minute quick mode and a three-minute MaxCare mode with a massage feature. The Cybersonic Classic (approximate cost: $50) and the Cybersonic (approximate cost: $70), both feature tooth whitening and floss and tongue cleaning systems.

Other Considerations

Battery power toothbrushes like the Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Pro Clean, Oral-B CrossAction Power and Colgate Motion, are each under $10.

While the Spinbrush received slightly higher clinical/consumer reviews, most budget-priced, battery-powered toothbrushes are similar; all feature replaceable brush heads and use AA disposable or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries. The Oral-B CrossAction toothbrush only requires one battery. Most others — including the Spinbrush and Motion — require two. However, users report changing the batteries every month or two. Considering the cost of batteries over a year's time, a rechargeable electric toothbrush with an internal battery may make more long-term financial sense.

Replacement Frequency. The head on mechanical toothbrushes should be replaced every three months or so, before the bristles become worn and frayed. This replacement frequency is similar to that of manual toothbrushes. Beyond ineffective, old brush heads may harbor harmful, infection-causing bacteria. Children's toothbrush heads typically need to be replaced more often than those of adults. People who are sick should change their toothbrush head at the start and end of an illness.

Low-Cost Electric. An electric toothbrush, such as the Oral-B Vitality (approximate cost: $18), is basically the same as a battery-powered toothbrush, only with a rechargeable battery and stand. It's ideal for people who are interested in trying a powered toothbrush but want an economical sample. For its modest price, the Oral-B Vitality —which spins instead of pulsating or oscillating — is rated very effective, receiving positive reviews for cleaning and ease of use. On the negative side, it received low battery life ratings, providing only two weeks of brushing before having to re-charge, which takes approximately 16 hours.

For Children. The rechargeable Sonicare for Kids (approximate cost: $70) uses the sonic technology on a gentler scale, suitable for children ages four to 10. It has two brushes and two power modes — each geared for various stages of oral development — as well as interchangeable front panels so kids can customize their brushes.

Ease of Use. Children and others who may be too impatient (or unable) to brush for the recommended two minutes due to lack of hand strength or dexterity problems may benefit from the HydraBrush Express (approximate cost: $80). Its patented multi-micro brush technology automatically positions angled bristles to surround teeth and massage gums. It has two brush heads (one for top teeth and one for bottom). Both brushes are split to clean the front and back of the teeth simultaneously with a back-and-forth motion. According to manufacturer claims, this "bite and guide" action can effectively clean teeth and gums in 40 seconds or less. Additionally, the HydraBrush Express is the first and only toothbrush (manual or powered) to receive the Arthritis Foundation Ease-of-Use Commendation. However, users complained about the short life of the charging unit (approximately 10 days), as well as the rigid brush stem, which makes it difficult to move with the curve of the jaw.

Disadvantages of Mechanical Toothbrushes

Although mechanical toothbrushes provide several benefits to many people, they are not for everyone. Consider these disadvantages of mechanical toothbrushes before making your purchasing decision.

  • More time and effort is needed to maintain them, since batteries, replacement brush heads and/or chargers are involved.
  • Most must be rinsed and cleaned after every use. Some manufacturers offer separate sanitizers for electric toothbrush cleaning convenience, such as the Philips Sonicare HX7990/02 UV Electric Toothbrush Sanitizer (approximate cost: $40).
  • Some people find powered toothbrushes too noisy and high-tech.
  • The battery compartments of some — especially the lower-end models — are hard to open, and water tends to leak into them after you replace the batteries. As with any electrical appliance, there is some risk of electric shock. For maximum safety, refrain from using if water leakage takes place.

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    Kenneth A Ingber, DMD

    Washington, DC 20006
    (202) 331-7474

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    Dr. Ivory Hancock

    Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 737-7025

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    Dr. Scott Shalit

    Garnet Valley, PA 19060
    (610) 459-5859

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    Dr. Lance Panarello

    Aston, PA 19014
    (484) 498-2132

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    Dr. Dan David

    Phoenixville, PA 19460
    (610) 935-1015