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Don't Brush Off Manual Toothbrushes

Morning can be electric, but manual will also do the trick, experts say

SUNDAY, Sept. 2, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Those fancy electric toothbrushes may have their place and purpose, but in most cases, they're 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 (ADA) in a statement on the issue. "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 (preferably one with an ADA seal of approval) and then just scrub away till the cows come home."

Dentist Dr. Mary J. 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.

What To Do

Read more about cleaning your teeth and gums at this American Dental Association site.

Visit the American Academy of Periodontology, which also has information on how failure to take care of your teeth can affect more than your mouth. The advice appears in the academy's Mouth-Body Connection section.

SOURCES: Interviews with Richard Price, D.M.D., consumer advisor, American Dental Association, Newton, Mass.; Mary J. Hayes, D.D.S., spokeswoman, American Dental Association, Chicago; ADA press release
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