Healthy Body

Using an Electric Toothbrush? Dentists Say You’re Probably Brushing Wrong

Rebecca Norris

Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold
A recently viral TikTok post is making people question if they really know how to brush their teeth with an electric toothbrush. You've probably been doing it wrong all along. To find out the mistakes you're making, we chatted with two dentists about everything there is to know about using an electric toothbrush.

First things first, are electric toothbrushes really worth it? According to Lawrence Weiner, DMD, the answer is yes. “An electric toothbrush is certainly the most effective and efficient way to maintain optimal oral health care,” he says.

With that in mind, and before reading on for how to use an electric toothbrush effectively, make sure you have a top-notch electric toothbrush to begin with. While many exist, we’re big fans of the Oral-B iO Series 6 Electric Toothbrush ($180) and the hum by Colgate Smart Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush ($70), both of which are compatible with a smartphone app that breaks down where to brush, for how long, and how to get the most out of your oral care routine. Even with those capabilities, though, it helps to be armed with dentist-approved tips for brushing.

The correct way to brush your teeth with an electric toothbrush

It’s safe to say that, growing up, many of us were taught to brush our teeth from side to side. But now, with the invention and wide use of electric toothbrushes, dentists are switching things up.

“When using an oscillation-rotation electric toothbrush you should place the brush on the tooth surface starting at the gumline,” explains Cincinnati-based dentist Stephanie Gans, DDS. “Brushing with an electric toothbrush is easy since the toothbrush will do the work for you. Once the brush is on, move tooth-by-tooth, pausing for a few seconds at a time on each surface of your tooth.” Dr. Gans says that you should clean the front and back of each tooth, going one by one, focusing on brushing for at least two minutes in total throughout your entire mouth.

Things to keep in mind when brushing with an electric toothbrush

With a traditional toothbrush, you may feel the need to put a little muscle into your brushing. With an electric toothbrush, however, that’s not necessary. In fact, doing so will cause many app-based brushes to alert you of too much pressure, which can lead to bleeding gums and damaged gumlines in general. “Gum damage is irreversible,” warns Dr. Weiner. Dr. Gans adds brushing too hard can lead to gum recession and enamel harm.

Additionally, in case it wasn’t clear before, Dr. Gans says that there’s genuinely no need to scrub your teeth the way you would with a classic toothbrush. “Oscillation Rotation toothbrushes are different from manual toothbrushes,” she says. “The brush will do the cleaning for you so there is no need to use a scrubbing motion on your teeth—you simply need to guide tooth-by-tooth and each tooth surface.”

Lastly, since an electric toothbrush is more of an investment, not to mention that they’re made with built-to-last technology, there’s no need to toss your brush after a few months. Instead, Dr. Weiner says to replace your brush head every three months and you’ll be good to go. That said, if you get sick or you have periodontitis, he says to change the brush sooner to avoid bacteria build up on the brush.

And, speaking of build-up, make sure to regularly clean your toothbrush. “After brushing, rinse off the entire brush and handle,”says Dr. Gans, noting that toothpaste and saliva can dribble down. “You should then decouple the brush head and handle and rinse each part separately. Once this is completed, you can tap the handle upside down on a towel to remove any excess water. Towel dry both the handle and the brush head and store in a dry area between brushing sessions.

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