Rod’s Ramblings on Electric Toothbrushes

By Rodney Martin in Health & Fitness

I wanted to launch into a rant against the electric toothbrush this month.  I wanted to wag my finger at the indolence of electric toothbrush owners.  I wanted to shake my head and bemoan the state of society.  We have, in the classic toothbrush, a perfectly functional and simple tool to keep our teeth clean—a stick with some bristles at the end—but we have now arrived, I wanted to say, at a time in human history where it is feasible and indeed profitable to market a more expensive and much more complicated tool in order that the masses need not oscillate their wrists or forearms for a few minutes a day.  What a boon for humanity!  What a great amount of effort that has been made unnecessary by this invention!  What progress!

“Pathetic!” I wanted to say.

Alas, the research suggests that electric toothbrushes do in fact offer some advantages over the classic toothbrush.

The primary goal of brushing your teeth, so the dentists tell us, is to remove plaque, and one of the places that plaque accumulates is just above the gum line behind your gums.  Most people do a fine enough job getting the plaque off the main part of their teeth regardless of brushing utensil, but evidently electric toothbrushes are significantly better at cleaning out above the gum line than regular toothbrushes.

Many people make the mistake of brushing too vigorously with a regular toothbrush.  Doing so can erode enamel and cause your gums to recede, both of which can cause painful problems in the long term.  I confess to having been a member of the Vigorous Brushers Club for all too long.  My thought was that, well, if I’m not on any sort of dental plan and I’m too stingy to go to the dentist as often as I should then I’d better just really scrub those teeth to a smooth shimmer each time I brush them.  It turns out this is a bad approach—my canines now have a sort of embarrassing saber-tooth tiger quality, the gums are so far gone.

I’m told (by “The Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, 11th edition” no less) that the correct brushing method involves tilting the bristles at a 45 degree angle upward on the top half of your mouth (45 degrees downward on the bottom, never perpendicular), and making short, rapid up-and-down or circular strokes (never side-to-side).  Gentleness and proper technique are far more important than pressure.

An electric toothbrush basically gives you the technique and gumline cleaning for—well, I was going to say for free, but it’s more like at least $50, and upwards of $100 if you want one that actually does a good job—one with a rotating, oscillating head is apparently the ticket—plus then you also have to buy the replacement heads at about $5 a pop.  So if you’re in the same boat as me, having no dental coverage and an aversion to spendy dental bills, an argument could be made that it’s a worthwhile long-term investment to purchase and use an electric toothbrush.  I think I probably still won’t be buying one any time soon, (I really am quite stingy), but I must concede that there is no need for me to get all frothy about electric toothbrushes.

Now, electric pepper grinders, on the other hand—pathetic!