Mechanical toothbrushes also called electrical, power or automated feature brush heads made of nylon bristles or tufts that move in a powerful way to effectively remove plaque and food debris from teeth and gums. Helping to power people's dental hygiene and dental health, these advanced toothbrushes can be classified into two main power types: battery and rechargeable electric power.
Battery Powered Toothbrushes
Battery (disposable or rechargeable) power toothbrushes offer the same design features as manual toothbrushes, which range in price from between $.99 to approximately $4, for only a few dollars more. These features include the following:
- Crisscrossed, extra-long or multi-level bristles
- Polished/rounded bristle tips
- Cupped-bristle design for whitening benefits
- Ergonomic handles with special grips
- Tapered/angled brush head
- Gum stimulators and tongue cleaner pads
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Batteries are stored in the bottom of the brush, which is typically thicker than that of manual toothbrushes. Electronic compartments in most battery powered toothbrushes are sealed against water damage, but leaks have been known to occur after the batteries have been changed.
In addition to vibrating to provide extra cleaning action, other special features of battery powered toothbrushes include a built-in AA battery that is replaceable in some models; an On/Off button on the handle; and bristles or split brush heads designed to pulsate along with the vibrations. Less costly than electric rechargeable toothbrushes which are the most expensive battery powered toothbrushes are good choices for people who prefer just a little power or first want to "test out" a mechanical toothbrush before investing in a more sophisticated, costly model.
Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush
Rechargeable electric toothbrushes range in cost from $22 up to $200. Electric brushes are plugged into the wall to recharge. You keep the handle and replace the brush head.
Electric toothbrushes typically provide the following benefits:
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- Various brushing modes specialized for sensitive teeth, whitening or gum-massaging action
- Pressure sensors that indicate when you're brushing too hard
- Timers to help you brush for the recommended two minutes
- Digital reminders to replace your brush head
- Multiple brush heads so you can select your preferred bristle design
- Extras, such as a brush head or toothbrush holder, bathroom-counter storage units and travel toothbrush chargers
- Oscillating-rotating or sonic/ultrasonic technology
Differences in Mechanical Brushing Action
Mechanical toothbrushes vary by brush head configuration, size, speed, design, cost and convenience features (such as timers). It is important to note that each device has its own unique mechanism of action, and research findings for one product may not apply to another.
There are primarily four different brushing actions for mechanical toothbrushes. The following details the various actions and provides examples of each with approximate costs.
- Oscillating-rotating action incorporates bristles that move back and forth and revolve to sweep away plaque. Examples of mechanical toothbrushes that use this type of technology are Braun's Oral-B Triumph with SmartGuide ($150) and Oral-B Advance Power 900 ($25).
- Oscillating-rotating-pulsating action moves bristles in an additional in-and-out direction to lift away plaque from hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. Examples of these brushes include Oral-B ProfessionalCare® Smart Series 5000 with SmartGuide ($155) and Oral-B Professional Care 3000 ($100).
- Sonic/ultrasonic technology uses sound wave energy to operate bristle movement at high velocity more than 27,000 vibrations to generate around 30,000 strokes per minute to remove plaque. Examples of brushes with this technology include Oral-B Sonic Complete S-320 Deluxe ($120), Philips Sonicare HealthyWhite Rechargeable Sonic Toothbrush ($120), Cybersonic 3® ($70) and Waterpik® SenSonic® Professional Toothbrush ($70).
- Vibrating action pivots bristles back and forth to reach between teeth, lift away plaque and gently stimulate gums. An example of this type of toothbrush is the Oral-B Pulsar Pro-Health Vibrating MicroPulse Toothbrush ($6) which uses a non-replaceable battery and is fully disposable.
Advantages of Mechanical Toothbrushes
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Mechanical toothbrushes provide multiple benefits to different people. They are ideal for the elderly, people with arthritis and patients with special needs, such as those who are disabled. Additionally, mechanical toothbrushes are recommended for people with braces, people with poor oral hygiene habits and caregivers who brush other people's teeth.
Mechanical toothbrushes also have shown the following beneficial capabilities and attributes:
- Motivating people particularly children and those who like gadgets to brush longer and more frequently
- Covering a larger area of the mouth quicker
- Providing greater plaque removal with less pressure/abrasion to hard and soft oral tissues
- More pleasing feel, sound and reduced effort during brushing
- Typically larger ergonomic handles, making it easier and more comfortable to use; especially for people with poor grip/control
- Built-in toothpaste dispensers or tooth whitening and floss and tongue cleaning systems
Battle of the Brushes: Mechanical Versus Manual
Many manual toothbrushes have the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Approval, which assures you that manufacturer claims have been reviewed and accepted by independent dental experts so that the products "must say what they do and do what they say." At the time of this writing, none of the manufacturers of mechanical toothbrushes had applied for the ADA seal, which is a voluntary process. However, there are numerous independent studies that conclude that powered toothbrushes are as safe and gentle as manual toothbrushes for soft and hard oral tissues, as well as dental restorations such as veneers for teeth and implants.
The available research also indicates that the way you brush is more important than what you brush with. Experts emphasize that what is most influential is that you regularly brush your teeth for the proper amount of time and using the proper technique. To effectively reach all areas, including hard-to-reach places, and scrub off cavity-causing bacteria, dental experts advise brushing for at least two minutes twice a day, particularly after meals. You can accomplish this with either a manual or a powered toothbrush, and there are numerous types within each category that can adequately meet your oral health needs and personal preferences.
For example, people with esthetic and ease-of-use concerns may find it interesting to note that when it comes to stain removal and tooth whitening, power toothbrushes such as Arm & Hammer Spinbrush Pro Whitening (approximate cost: $9), Oral-B Pulsonic (approximate cost: $70) and Sonicare Healthy White Rechargeable Sonic Toothbrush (approximate cost: $130) have been shown to deliver better natural stain removal and tooth whitening results than manual brushes, and with less effort.Also, it is important to consult your dentist before purchasing a mechanical brush. Certain oral conditions are best treated by a specific type of mechanical action or brand of brush. Some unhealthy oral conditions can be exacerbated, or become worse, if the wrong type of brush is used.