05 February 2009

Don't brush off manual toothbrushes

Electric toothbrushes have become very popular in South Africa recently. Those fancy electric toothbrushes are not doing anything you can't do yourself, say experts.

Electric toothbrushes have become very popular in South Africa recently. Either people are taking more interest in dental health, or are keen to try out a new electronic toy. Either way, those fancy electric toothbrushes are not doing anything you can't do yourself with an old-fashioned hand-powered brush, say experts.

"Manual toothbrushes can be just as effective as power toothbrushes," says the American Dental Association in a statement. "The key is that the user must effectively use the toothbrush."

According to ADA consumer advisor Dr Richard Price, that means just putting a little bit of effort and time into your brushing.

"It's so easy to just pick up a manual toothbrush, just give a few brushes and you're out the door," he adds. "But you can fool yourself into thinking you've done a good job."

The key, he says, is to find "a good toothbrush and then just scrub away till the cows come home."

Dentist Dr Mary Hayes adds that the optimal brushing technique offered by electric toothbrushes can also be done manually.

"The advantage of electric toothbrushes is that most go in a motion which is stimulating to the gums but not damaging to them," she says.

"That's very important because when you brush, you really need to place the brush against the tooth and at the gumline appropriately," she adds. "With many people, especially kids, they'll brush, but they just go for the general tooth area. You need to get at the food and plaque that accumulate up near the gumline."

The ADA doesn't recommend a set length of time for brushing, because thoroughness, not time, counts.

"It's important to brush thoroughly enough to get any food out from between your teeth and to get the plaque off," Price says.

"And whether you're using a manual or electric toothbrush, it's only half finished unless you use dental floss. It's just like when you vacuum your living room - it's not complete until you use the various attachments to get at the nooks and crannies," he adds.

Price and the ADA don't dismiss electric brushes entirely, however.

"Automatic brushes do have a place - among their best uses are for people who have trouble handling a manual toothbrush. They may have a dexterity problem, they might be old or have arthritis," says Price.

"Or we might prescribe an electric brush for someone who doesn't seem to be getting the results they should be from a hand toothbrush," he adds.



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