By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD
The Toothboss,

In major league baseball, the argument used to be the DH versus pitchers hitting for themselves. Major League Baseball changed that rule. In dental circles, we still have our version of that: electric toothbrush versus the manual toothbrush. For many dentists, when it comes to the electric toothbrush, they say throw out the manual—toothbrush, that is.

I agree. Particularly for seniors.

As we age, the dexterity with which we can maneuver a toothbrush can diminish and you can miss some of those hard-to-get-to places. The electric brush uses ultrasonic motions so seniors can brush hard-to-reach places. And since it’s powered by a rechargeable battery, the consistent movement of the bristles, if used properly, eliminates the accumulation of plaque and food debris that cause gum disease. As we’ve discussed in this space before, gum disease can have a major impact on our overall health, particularly the cardiovascular system.

One part of a standard dental examination is an evaluation of the effectiveness of a patient’s brushing. This is something dentists do for patients of all ages, but it is especially important to pay a little more attention to our older patients. If a patient shows signs of being ineffective with a manual brush, we often recommend an electric toothbrush to get them on the right track.

The condition of your gums plays a major part in the recommendation. Many times, I can tell whether someone is lefthanded or righthanded by looking at their gums. If they are righthanded, you can see more inflammation and sometimes more recession on the left side of their mouth as they are more likely to not be as effective to their weak side. If the electric brush is used properly, its effectiveness is readily apparent throughout the mouth and the tissues look very healthy.

Another key for seniors is being thorough with your brushing, no matter the brush you choose. Patients often rush through their home care regimen, and this is another area where an electric toothbrush comes in handy.

When using the electric brush, make sure the head of the brush is on two teeth and remain on those two teeth for 5 seconds (count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and then move to the next two teeth. Making sure you are getting both the outsides of the teeth near your cheeks and lips, and then the insides of your teeth near your palate and your tongue. Since the electric toothbrush provides the power, people who use electric brushes brush longer, which minimizes many of the aforementioned issues.

Some electric toothbrushes come with timers if you want to keep track that way instead of counting.

When it comes to seniors, quite frankly, it’s really not a question of should you or should you not use an electric toothbrush. Its more about why aren’t you?

Cost may be an issue, but price has come down in recent years and you can get a very reasonably priced brush for $100. Those are the better brushes but we have found that the cheaper brushes aren’t as effective. Modify your manual technique to become more effective and you can eliminate investing in an electric. But the better brands like Sonicare have proven to be better.

The switch can be transformational. I had one patient who before using an electric toothbrush was a candidate for expensive and somewhat painful gum tissue treatments. After the switch, the accumulation of plaque was eliminated and his gums improved so that he was able to take the family on a nice vacation with the money he had put aside for gum tissue surgery. I hope you are ALL that fortunate!

The Toothboss uses Sonicare as its preferred electric toothbrush vendor. If you’re interested in finding out how an electric toothbrush can upgrade your dental care, give us a call at 781-335-0604.

Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD is the owner of The Toothboss, 1121 Main Street, South Weymouth, MA. For more information, call 781-335-0604 or visit