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Electric vs Manual Toothbrush?

Posted by Simon Cooper on


If you’re thinking about buying a new toothbrush, should you choose an electric or manual toothbrush? 

In this blog post we break down the pros and cons of choosing an electric or manual toothbrush. Most reviews focus on oral care and price, but we add a uniquely ‘Grin’ perspective: environmental consideration. Because hey, it’s 2019 and it’s raining plastic.

Electric toothbrushes

Electric, (or powered) toothbrushes use either batteries or electricity. The movement of the brush heads vary, from side-to-side motion and rotating brush heads. 

Manual toothbrushes 

Manual toothbrushes mean any toothbrush that is not powered. (Here is a short blog post on the history of the toothbrush.)

While most manual toothbrushes available are the disposable plastic variety, Grin toothbrush offers a sustainable alternative; an aluminum handle you keep and high quality replacement brush heads you can subscribe to.

Cost comparison

The price for electric toothbrushes is significantly higher than manual toothbrushes. They start at around $10 for the low end, semi-disposable versions that use batteries. At the high end, a premium electric toothbrush can cost over $250. 

The cost of brush heads for electric toothbrushes varies, usually costing between $10 and $45 for a replacement pack.

The price of a manual toothbrush varies greatly, but a good quality toothbrush is roughly $4 – 8. 

Manual toothbrush are clearly the winner here.

Electric vs manual toothbrush performance

According to Consumer Reports, electric and manual toothbrushes are equally effective as long as you brush teeth well for 2 minutes, twice a day.

In fact, Consumer Reports dental adviser Jay W. Friedman, D.D.S., M.P.H., said that if you don’t currently have gingivitis, “it really doesn’t matter which brush you use.”

But in a 2014 Cochrane study of over 5000 participants, results showed:

“Powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing in the short and long term. The clinical importance of these findings remains unclear.”

One notable exception is that people with mobility problems or arthritis can benefit from using an electric toothbrush.

Environmental cost

Electric toothbrushes are meant to be used for a long period of time with just the brush heads replaced. They even offer short term benefits because their brush heads usually use less plastic than disposable manual toothbrushes (FYI: neither are recyclable due to using a mix of different types of plastic. So, major fail.) 

When the time comes to replace your electric toothbrush, the environmental cost is high; the combination of different types of plastics and electric components (or batteries) means that recycling is impossible.

Some electric toothbrushes weigh as much as 1 kg (including packaging). The environmental cost of the material, manufacturing process, shipping and disposal is atrocious.  

Traditional manual toothbrushes are also an environmental disaster. The first plastic toothbrush was made in 1938, and nearly every single one is still somewhere on the planet today, in landfills or oceans and waterways. 

On top of that, each year, more than three billion plastic toothbrushes are disposed of. That’s roughly equivalent to the weight of 5,500 yellow school buses. Or, put another way, enough to circle the earth more than twelve times.

Should I choose a manual or electric toothbrush?

The decision depends on several factors, but we hope this blog post has helped inform you about some of the pros and cons of electric and manual toothbrushes. 

You can’t go too far wrong if you brush twice a day for a few minutes each time. According to the fine folks at the American Dental Association (ADA), both electric and manual toothbrushes are effective at removing plaque.

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