Brushing your teeth is the foundation of good oral care and prevention. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), both electric and manual toothbrushes are effective at removing oral plaque that causes decay and disease.

Electric and manual toothbrushes each have their own benefits. The ADA puts a Seal of Acceptance on any toothbrush, electric or manual, that’s proven safe and effective. Read more about the pros and cons and which one might be best for you.

Electric toothbrush bristles vibrate or rotate to help you remove plaque buildup from your teeth and gums. The vibration allows for more micro-movements every time you move your toothbrush across your teeth.

More effective at removing plaque

A review of studies showed that, in general, electric toothbrushes do decrease more plaque and gingivitis than manual toothbrushes. After three months of use, plaque was reduced by 21 percent and gingivitis by 11 percent. Oscillating (rotating) toothbrushes seem to work better than just vibrating toothbrushes.

Easier for people with limited mobility

Electric toothbrushes does most of the work for you. They may be helpful for anyone with limited mobility, such as people with:

Built-in timers

A timer built into an electric toothbrush can help you brush your teeth long enough to sufficiently remove plaque from your teeth and gums.

May cause less waste

When it’s time for a new toothbrush, you only have to replace an electric toothbrush head in many cases, so it may be less wasteful than throwing away a full manual toothbrush.

However, if you use a single-use electric toothbrush, you’ll have to completely replace it when it’s time to do so.

May improve your focus while brushing

At least one study found that people were more focused when brushing their teeth using an electric toothbrush. This improved people’s overall experience brushing and could potentially improve how well you clean your teeth.

May improve oral health in people with orthodontic appliances

One study found that electric toothbrushes were particularly helpful for people with orthodontic appliances, such as braces, because it made brushing easier.

Among people with appliances who already had good oral health, plaque levels were about the same, whether they used an electric toothbrush or not. But if you find it difficult to clean your mouth while having orthodontic therapy, the electric toothbrush may improve your oral health.

Fun for kids

Not all kids are interested in brushing their teeth. If an electric toothbrush is more engaging to your child, it can help accomplish good oral cleaning and set healthy habits.

Safe for gums

Used properly, an electric toothbrush should not hurt your gums or enamel but instead promote overall oral health.

Electric toothbrushes are more expensive than manual ones. Prices range anywhere from $15 to $250 per brush. New replacement brush heads usually come in packs of multiples and cost between $10 and $45. Totally disposable electric toothbrushes cost $5 to $8 plus the cost of batteries.

Finding the right replacement brush heads may not always be easy or convenient, either, since not all stores carry them, and your local stores may not have the correct brand. You can purchase them online, but this isn’t convenient for everyone, and it’s not a great option if you need a new head right away. You can stock up and have enough on hand to last a year or more but that adds to upfront cost.

In two studies among seniors, electric toothbrushes didn’t significantly remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes. This doesn’t mean electric toothbrushes don’t work, but it might mean they aren’t worth the extra cost.

Plug-in versions may not be a good option if you travel internationally, since you’ll need a backup travel toothbrush in these cases. Even though electric toothbrushes may produce less waste, because they require electricity or batteries, they are less eco-friendly than manual ones.

Not everyone likes the vibrating feeling, either. Plus, electric toothbrushes create a bit more movement of saliva in your mouth, which may get messy.

Manual toothbrushes have been around for a long time. While they don’t have the bells and whistles found in many electric toothbrushes, they are still an effective tool for cleaning your teeth and preventing gingivitis.

If you’re most comfortable sticking with a manual toothbrush, continue using one if it means you’ll still brush twice per day, every day.

Accessible

You can get a manual toothbrush at almost any grocery store, gas station, dollar store, or pharmacy. They also don’t need to be charged to function, so you can use a manual toothbrush anywhere and at any time.

Affordable

Manual toothbrushes are cost-effective. You can usually buy one for $1 to $3.

One study found that people were more likely to brush too hard if they used a manual toothbrush versus electric. Brushing too hard can hurt your gums and teeth.

Using a manual toothbrush may also make it more difficult to know if you’re brushing long enough for every session since there’s no built-in timer. Consider placing a kitchen timer in your bathroom to time your brushing sessions.

The best toothbrush for your child is whatever one they are mostly likely to use. Experts recommend soft bristles and a child-sized toothbrush head for kids. Neither a manual nor electric toothbrush is necessarily better for young children. The same pros and cons of each kind still apply.

Toddlers and kids can safely use an electric toothbrush on their own. Though, it’s recommended that you supervise your children while brushing their teeth to make sure they spit out their toothpaste and don’t swallow it.

Tip:

  • For toddlers, you may want to do a second brushing after your child to make sure they got all areas of their mouth.

All toothbrushes need to be replaced every three to four months according to the ADA. Replace your toothbrush sooner if it looks frayed or if you used it when you were sick. With a manual toothbrush, the whole thing needs to be replaced. With an electric toothbrush, you may only need to replace the removable head.

Tip:

  • Replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head every three to four months.

The most important parts of brushing your teeth are using proper technique, and doing it twice per day, every day. The best way to brush your teeth is to:

  • Pick a toothbrush that’s the right size for your mouth.
  • Avoid hard bristles that can irritate your gums. The ADA recommends soft-bristle brushes. Also, look for brushes with multi-level or angled bristles. One study found this type of bristle to be more effects than flat, one-level bristles.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Hold the brush at a 45-degree angle to your teeth and gums.
  • Gently brush all tooth surfaces (front, back, chewing) for two minutes.
  • Rinse your toothbrush and store it upright to air dry — and keep it out of range of the toilet which can spray germs when flushing.
  • Floss once per day, either after or brushing.
  • Mouth rinses are optional and shouldn’t replace flossing or brushing.

If you experience any bleeding, talk with your dentist. A number of things can cause bleeding when you brush and floss, such as:

Sometimes people have bleeding gums when they’ve gone too long between brushing and flossing, and the plaque really starts to build up. So long as you are gentle, brushing and flossing should not actually cause bleeding.

Tip:

  • Brush twice a day for at least two minutes each time and floss daily.

Both electric and manual toothbrushes are effective at cleaning teeth if you use proper technique and brush long enough. Overall, an electric toothbrush may make brushing easier, resulting in better plaque removal. Talk with your dentist if you have questions about which toothbrush might be best for you.

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