Plaque is a film that develops over teeth and is created by bacteria normally found in your mouth. Over time, bacteria in this plaque can release acids that attack tooth enamel leading to tooth decay and gum disease. These conditions can be painful and require dental treatment and impact your overall health. Fortunately, regular dental examinations along with brushing and flossing can help prevent these conditions. Powered toothbrushes for home use have become a popular option but it is not clear if they have added benefit.
Researchers wanted to compare manual and powered toothbrushes to determine which was better at reducing plaque and gingivitis. The study, published in Cochrane Database, found that powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing.
The systematic review included 51 trials assessing the effectiveness of unsupervised manual or power toothbrushing on plaque and gingivitis. There were a total of 4,624 participants in studies lasting four weeks or more. Compared to manual brushing, powered brushing was associated with:
A systematic review is considered a reliable form of research because it combines several smaller studies. The higher the number of participants the more reliable the results may be. However, the systematic review is only as reliable as the studies that were included. In this case, many of the studies may have had some bias, which may decrease the reliability of results.
If you suffer from frequent cavities or gum disease, you may want to talk to your dentist about the type of toothbrush that you use. Some people find it easier to brush their teeth with a powered toothbrush, especially those who have physical impairments. When choosing any brush, make sure the size and shape of the brush fits your mouth comfortably and allows you to clean effectively.
No matter what type of brush you use, the American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste. Replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. Ideal dental health also includes daily flossing and regular visits to the dentist.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Plaque. Mouth Healthy website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/p/plaque. Accessed August 6, 2014.
Toothbrushes. Mouth Healthy website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/t/toothbrushes. Accessed August 7, 2014.
Yaacob M, Worthington HV, et al. Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 June 17;6:CD002281.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD