Manual Or Electric? The Honest Answer
Understand the real difference between manual and electric toothbrushes.
This question deserves a detailed answer, but we want to get to the important part right away Following proper habits including brushing for two minutes, twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush, changing your brush head every 3 months and visiting the dentist a minimum of 2x a year are foundational to a healthy clean. The best brush for you is most likely the one that you’ll follow those habits best with. Don’t expect this to be easy to believe, especially given what we've all been told in ads for years, but we think you deserve to hear the truth that led us to create quip. So we’re answering the most common questions around this important subject matter, to try and enlighten you like our first dentist enlightened us!
What does give a better clean?
This question is the easiest and yet most important to answer: a healthy brushing routine! We go into a lot more detail elsewhere on our site, but in short, there are simply no shortcuts that can bypass this routine and certainly no electric toothbrush features that can have anywhere near the impact that following these basics can have! So the only way to get a better clean is to brush with the right technique (gently, for 2 minutes), a consistent routine (before bed and after waking), and regular upkeep (changing heads every 3 months and visiting the dentist every 6 months). So what brush gives the best clean? It is most likely the one that you’ll follow those habits best with.
Why design an electric brush?!
Dentists encourage using electric toothbrush because the vast majority of us don’t stick to the above good habits and need a helping hand to do so. Whether using manual or electric, nationally we brush closer to 1 minute than 2, over 75% of us don’t replace our brush heads on time, 40% don’t visit the dentist even once a year, and up to 50% don’t even brush twice a day! When reading these stats (and thinking about your routine), it becomes clear where the real big gains can be made, and quip was designed to make it easier to stick to these simple, healthy habits! After all, what's the point in a feature that (might) get you a 1% better clean if you are using it wrong, leaving it in disrepair and only using it 50% of the time you should be!
What about "the studies?"
We aren't going to tell you to ignore studies, just to think carefully while reading them! Given the far greater impact that following good basics habits (as mentioned above) will have on your oral health than any single feature could ever have, our primary advice is to think big gains, not small! But if you are looking to really dig in and understand more about potential marginal gains of certain electric toothbrush features, here are some things to look out for while doing so:
They are often sponsore by the company that is looking for that particular outcome. So do your digging as sponsorship can be masked by a third-party company that is funded by the oral care brand!
They can be run in unrealistic environments, whether that be in a lab under perfect conditions, or not taking into account things like placebo effect. After all, if you were a manual brusher and got handed an electric for the first time, do you think you would suddenly brush worse?! (More on that below!) So pay attention to the setup of the study.
In oral care research, for every study claiming one thing, there is usually another counter-claiming it! The big brands want to play down claims of their rivals as much as they want to support their own, so for every “this brush is better than that brush” study there is often a “this brush is no better than that” one. Confusing, right? So try and search for the opposite study of the one you are reading to get the most balanced view.
Most importantly, studies are often by nature meant to prove a particular narrow point, not solve a problem. Instead of asking what would cause the greatest improvement in oral health, a study will often focus on one new feature and a claim that a brand is trying to prove (ie. “does ‘10,000 extra hertz’ of power make a 1% difference in cleaning?”). This often glosses over the core habits that have a true impact. So take a step back and consider the true impact of the study you are reading in comparison to improving your basic habits and technique.
Why do dentists like electric?
There are many reasons, but here are two common ones. One is clever marketing by the big guys; they can afford to hand out free brushes to professionals to get them using their products. Professionals have great technique and routine, so the brushes perform well, and dental professionals are honest people, so they recommend the brush they are using to patients! Smart! Another other big reason is more interesting: the placebo effect. What do we mean by this? Well, as discussed, it’s not manual brushes themselves that are bad at brushing, it’s the way we use them! It might seem silly, but while the two-minute timer and vibrating bristles can encourage better brushing, more importantly, you are more energized and interested in your new product, and that can drive better habits! However, while this initial excitement can lead to better habits, it can wear off over time and lead to even more damaging ones. More on that below!
What about rotating / ultrasonic?
Firstly, and we're sorry for the broken record, but there is no “problem” with these brushes themselves! Use them safely and they will clean just as well as anything! However, good habits drive health, and oral care habits can be heavily influenced by your brush in both positive and negatives ways! Here are some negative impacts of premium brushes to be mindful of:
Superfluous features add cost (hence why brands love them!), but they also add bulk and inconvenience. Brushing twice a day is one of the most important aspects of your routine, but when your brush weighs a pound and has to be stored in the kitchen due to its giant wired charging stand, skipping that evening brush becomes a lot easier! Not only that, but we get so used to the electric feel, that when the batteries no longer hold a charge (thanks to the eight modes, wireless charging, and 50,000 rpm motor straining them daily!), skipping brushing is usually chosen over manual brushing, despite it being just as effective!
Unless you want to be an Amazon superstar and scout out the best deals for the off-brand multi-packs of brush heads, electric brush heads are EXPENSIVE! They can go up to as much as $30 per head for some brushes! We all know when our brush heads have worn out (even without faded bristles or flashy LED warning lights), but that's not the problem. The problem is we forget about the need to replace our brush head the second we put our brush down in the morning – and the fact they cost $10-$30 to replace makes it all the easier to forget!
This is by far the most damaging! As we’ve discussed above, there is an initial benefit to electrics – you focus more and so brush better! But this initial enthusiasm can very quickly go downhill; we are so bought into the hype and marketing buzzwords like “ultrasonic,” and “rotations per minute,” that our habits actually get worse! We believe that the brushes do the work – that the more power and movement, the better they clean – and therefore think we can let our technique slip and still get a great clean. So we end up back where we started; with no one keeping us informed, we slip back to the same bad habits and let the brush sit there in our mouth, assuming it will work miracles. More worrying, our misperceptions about “power brushing” make us think we need to brush even harder. Combine ultra-power brushes with ultra hard brushing and you have a recipe for irreversible gum damage! (a problem that is starting to get some serious coverage and we go into here.)
Why do brands ignore habits?
Because fixing bad habits doesn't need to cost you a thing and so does not drive higher profits from frequent upgrades in the same way that adding new gimmicks does! This year it’s ultra whitening modes, last year supersonic speed, year before angled bristles. Every year there is a new reason to “upgrade,” but every year we get further from what really matters :(
So why quip and not a manual?
After all this, we completely understand why this is usually the next, and last, question, but we aren’t going to change our tune! If you are confident you brush for 2 minutes, gently, with good technique, twice a day, plus change your brush head every 3 months and visit the dentist every 6 all without assistance, then you are an absolute oral care routine star. However, most of us don’t stick to these habits. That is why we built quip: to guide these crucial good habits, using a mixture of enjoyable design, honest advice and affordable services. And unlike other electric brushes, we will be by your side for the long run, checking in with this blog, our monthly email newsletters, daily social media posts and quarterly refill cards to make sure you are sticking to your good habits and enjoying yourself while doing so!