Health Topics

Do electric toothbrushes really work? Your questions answered


May 3, 2018

If you’ve been wooed by the countless toothbrush startups, you’re not alone. Here’s what to look for in an electric toothbrush, and if you should even invest.



Gadgets and gizmos are fun. That’s why you might be tempted to order the latest electric toothbrush you see advertised in your social media feeds. Some of them have extra bells and whistles like timers and sleek designs. Nowadays, fancier electric brushes cost hundreds of dollars, but you can also find reasonably priced versions on pharmacy shelves. Should you make the investment?

The options are endless and you may be left wondering if an electric toothbrush will even improve your dental health? Or could it actually do more harm than good? The answers to these questions vary from person to person.

“Every individual circumstance is different,” said Tyler Ames, D.M.D. of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Oral Health Team. “But if somebody fell into the category where it would be beneficial, in the long run, that investment would pay off because it would decrease your dental costs.”

Ames said an electric toothbrush could help offset the need for deep cleanings or cavity fillings down the road. We sat down with him to help us brush up on the basics of electrics.


Can electric toothbrushes damage your teeth?

Ames recommends asking your dental health professional for an assessment before you shell out cash for an electric option.

He likens the electric toothbrush to a power washer, and in some cases, that type of vigorous cleaning is helpful, but not in others. With certain risk factors, electric toothbrushes can damage your teeth.

“For example,” Ames said, “if a person has a thin biotype — which means they have really thin gum tissue — I don’t want them to use an electric toothbrush because they could brush too hard and brush the gums away.”

Other risk factors include gum recession or being an aggressive brusher. “I definitely have patients who do a good job, sometimes too good of a job, with just a regular toothbrush,” Ames said.


Do electric toothbrushes really work?

If you’re not prone to damage from electric toothbrushes, they’re worth considering. Electric toothbrushes can be helpful to people who run short on brushing time. If you aren’t spending a full two minutes on your teeth, an electric toothbrush can offer a better cleaning than a rushed scrubbing with a normal brush. Regularity is important, too. “I heavily recommend it for people who only brush their teeth once a day,” Ames said. (Yes, your dentist will notice if you’re shirking on your oral hygiene!) Of course, the use of an electric toothbrush shouldn’t be a reason to let good habits slide or to stop trying to incorporate better ones.

It’s worth noting, kids are also often great candidates for the electric toothbrush. “I think it can be motivating for them to brush their teeth more because it’s kind of a neat little gadget,” Ames explained.


How do I find the right electric toothbrush?

Ames has some simple advice: Expensive toothbrushes are not worth the money. “I always tell people not to spend over $40 on an electric toothbrush,” he said. “Don’t think that if you spend $200 it will benefit your oral health even more.” Don’t go for the bargain basement price, either, he cautions, or you could end up with something that doesn’t last.

The brand doesn’t matter. The ultimate goal is finding a toothbrush that you will use regularly and appropriately, without being too rough on your teeth and gums. “I see success with all different types of electric toothbrushes,” Ames said.