Help me brush my teeth, not brush them away.
May 11, 2012 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Should I use an electric toothbrush?

I've recently started (and stopped) using the oral B 5000 electric toothbrush, and I am really surprised as to how strong it is. Meaning, I get headaches from the vibrations, especially when I brush my front teeth. I already have short roots on my front teeth, and I feel very iffy about brushing there; it feels like it's wiggling my teeth, which is no bueno. Note: I've only been using the toothbrush on the "light" mode (the feather icon).

I also have gum recession all along my lower teeth (for which I've done two gum graftings already), and I'm worried that this will just brush away more of the gum tissue. (By the way, my gum recession isn't caused by gingivitis or poor dental hygiene; it's genetic, apparently, but I don't know if I believe that.)

I have the regular brush head that came with it, and I'm thinking of ordering the sensitive brush heads online, but how soft are they, really? With manual toothbrushes, I can be gentler on my front teeth and rougher on my back, but it feels like with this toothbrush, I'm trying to control a jackhammer.

I am hoping someone with similar dental issues who uses an electric toothbrush could share their experiences with me. Thank you!
posted by shipsthatburn to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What does your dentist say?

For what it's worth, some people just don't do electric toothbrushes. My mom and grandma both have used all kinds of fancy ones, and can't find one that doesn't give them the head-rattling, headache-inducing vibrations. I tolerate them just fine, but hate-hate-hate them and vastly prefer a manual toothbrush.

The only reason I could think for you to use an electric toothbrush that gives you such problems is if your dentist has told you that you are not adequately brushing them manually. (And in that case, I would look to your dentist for answers to questions on sensitive brush heads and gum recession.) Otherwise, you can brush your teeth perfectly fine without one, and not have to worry about the gums or the vibration headaches ever again.
posted by phunniemee at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2012

I have ghastly receding gums and all manner of dental hardware in my unlucky mouth - bridges, implants, etc - and both my periodontist and my dentist agree that the switch from regular to electric toothbrush has made a significant change for the better in my overall mouth-health.

I too was super worried about using one initially - for the exact same reason as you, re: will this somehow make my gums worse? It has thus far made them much happier gums.

As for the short roots/wiggly feeling teeth, it's not exactly the same, but - I was pretty nervous about using an electric toothbrush on my bridgework, since it's a marilyn/maryland/idek bridge that is only partially attached to the neighboring teeth. I was convinced it would vibrate it right off the very first time I used it. It's been about 2-3 years now and it's stayed stuck tight (aside from the Taffy Incident).

I'm not sure about your particular model, but my oral-b (i think it's the 3000) has a way to slow down the speed/intensity of the brushing. Maybe yours does too?
posted by elizardbits at 12:54 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dentist recommends a sonic toothbrush. He uses a sonic cleaner in his office and I get out of there in 15 minutes tops.

Two minutes and voila! I also have no cavities.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:54 PM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found the Oral B one to be really... intense. I had to go back to Sonicare. The Oral B is like... really rough-feeling! I felt much the way you did.

That being said, changing to these newfangled toothbrushes was HUGE in terms of teeth and gum improvement. Talk to your dentist. And I recommend Sonicare.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:01 PM on May 11, 2012

My dentist claims they are much better than traditional brushing. Another dentist I talked to said its a good thing, but mostly the fate of your teeth is genetic. If it doesn't work for you, don't use it. But do have a talk with your dentist about the pros, cons and alternatives.
posted by jeffamaphone at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2012

I've never used an electric, but if you're getting headaches or wiggling teeth from an electric, might you be pressing too hard? The little thing dentists polish with is similar to an electric toothbrush and I've never experienced discomfort when those are used on my teeth.

I have slight gum recession from overbrushing. Back sometime when I couldn't afford to see a dentist, I tried to make up for it by brushing harder. I still easily fall back into the habit.

I asked my dental hygienist about switching to an electric toothbrush. She said it's just as easy to overbrush with an electric. People like me who brush hard are just as prone to push hard and scrub the gums (which is bad). She recommended I just brush lighter with small-head, soft toothbrushes. My current technique is to hold a toothbrush with just two fingers and thumb, barely using pressure at all.
posted by Boxenmacher at 1:10 PM on May 11, 2012

Receding gums here. I would say that they are genetic, as they're all over my Mom's side of the family. (She's done a grafting, in fact, which didn't last, with everything going back to as before.)

I don't much care for the electric toothbrush myself. It just didn't fit with me. Contrary to advice, I use a hard-bristle brush, as I like a good scrubbing, and it's excellent for control. I'm careful with the problem area, and the results are pretty good -- one cavity in 25 years (which wasn't my fault -- I outlasted the old filling).

Sometimes I aggravate the gums a bit with it, but I figure it's healthy, stimulating them a bit, keeping them active.

I could be completely wrong about all of this. So far, though, I'm not.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:56 PM on May 11, 2012

My dentist recommended an electric toothbrush because my gums were receding. No two mouths are the same, so your best advice would be to ask your dentist.
posted by backwards guitar at 2:12 PM on May 11, 2012

I've had one dentist tell me that my receding gums were due to my Sonicare usage. That she only recommended electric toothbrushes to people with impaired movement. So I went back to a manual brush and she said that my gums looked better.

I switched to a new dentist, and she recommends Sonicare for all her patients. There is no consensus. Talk to your dentist and use what works best for you.
posted by gnutron at 2:35 PM on May 11, 2012

I like my Sonicare quite a bit. It doesn't make my head rattle or hurty. But I am not you, alas.
posted by tacodave at 3:00 PM on May 11, 2012

I've had gum erosion from guiltily overbrushing and my dentist was absolutely delighted with my gums when I went back after switching to an electric toothbrush (Oral B/Braun 1000, one mode only). Unless I press super-hard, there's only one spot that rattles my skull, right at the back of the upper row, and I've figured it was just the brush angled badly on a filling. My teeth are so damn clean, too.

Nthing talking to your own dentist. If your brushing technique isn't even a factor in your gum erosion, then maybe it's not a good fit.
posted by carbide at 4:18 PM on May 11, 2012

Other people's experiences are just that - other people's, not yours. You must go with what works or doesn't work for you. I have the same toothbrush and it works amazingly well for me, but I'm not about to suggest the same must/should be true for you. That said, some thoughts:

1)There's a period of adjustment when you first start brushing with an electric toothbrush. So your experience in the first week or so is not necessarily indicative of how you'd react long term.

2)Softer brushes are available, and the Oral-B people recommend you start with those (Sensitive).

3)There is a bit of technique to brushing with an electric. You should not press too hard, so if your whole head is vibrating, that's not right. But then, this shouldn't be too extreme, because there's a built-in trigger point that warns you you're pressing too hard. Basically let the brush gently rest on the tooth and move it in smooth strokes across your teeth.

4)If you are not pressing too hard, and if you are a few weeks past your gum surgery (six weeks), the electric brush should not cause gum injury with proper technique. There may be some initial bleeding (see point 1 above), but that should stop by the end of the first week of use. If you continue to bleed, then you either have ongoing gingivitis, or some other problem. What happens in time, is that upon brushing the gum tissue keratinizes, which is to say, it toughens from the abrasions just as you'd develop tougher skin on the soles of your feet if you walk barefoot, or on your palms if you do a lot of physical labor with your hands. Keratinized gum tissue is not a negative.

5)The vibration itself should not loosen your teeth. If anything, quite the opposite. There is research showing bone thickening when subject to vibration, so your teeth should in fact become anchored more strongly when subject to regular brief doses of vibration. This is in contrast to being yanked around with a great deal of force. In general putting pressure on the tooth through biting on things like apples, tends to strengthen the bone in which your teeth are anchored. And the opposite is also true - if your teeth don't experience pressure for a long time, they will loosen and fall out, and the bone that anchored them will thin out. Bottom line: the vibration is, if anything, most likely a positive. However, if the vibration leads to headaches that's obviously a negative and should not be tolerated.

6)Talk to your dentist and have them (a) demonstrate proper technique in using your electric brush - if you experience the negative effects in that time, you will know that it is not the technique that's responsible; if it is not the technique, then have them recommend a different model of a brush, or possibly just using a manual brush.
posted by VikingSword at 4:29 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not sure I would have any teeth left in my mouth if it was not for my Sonicaire.
posted by Danf at 4:51 PM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

So I talked to my dentist, and he said that due to my gum recession, I would be in danger of making that worse if I feel like the vibrations are too strong. He said to brush as lightly as possible and to try the softer brushes. If I still feel it's too much, he said I should just go back to a manual brush.

I think I might want to try Sonicare. I remember now why I went with the Oral B; it's because my dentist recommended a small round head over anything else, and only Oral B had it. I've now researched some Sonicare brush heads, and it looks like they have a "compact" brush head, but it's not labeled as soft. I don't think I can return my Oral B brush now anyway since it's been used, so I'll just try the soft heads and hope for the best. If not, maybe someone else in my family can use it.

VikingSword--I was told by my orthodontist to not chew or bite anything hard with my front teeth, as they are already in danger of falling out. My dentist also told me that even if I decide to stay with the electric toothbrush, I should probably use the manual for my front teeth, if they are wiggling.

Oh, and I'm pressing as light as possible, but I have a very small mouth; I try to keep my mouth closed to keep the toothpaste from spraying everywhere, but it makes for a tight squeeze. I think I might pull my lips outward or something to give the toothbrush more room and not have it pressed against my teeth too much.

Thank you for your input everyone!
posted by shipsthatburn at 6:27 PM on May 11, 2012

Look for a toothbrush with a "sensitive" setting. I think there are some versions of Sonicare that have them and small round heads--though the lovely one I had died after a year and now I'm stuck with a crappy traditional Sonicare I got gifted from Costco. But it's out there at Bed, Bath and Beyond.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:32 PM on May 11, 2012

I have tried electric toothbrushes, including Sonicare. I have problems with over brushing and receding gums. The electric toothbrushes made things worse. I now just use a soft or baby manual toothbrush.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:09 AM on May 12, 2012

If you're keeping your mouth tightly closed around the toothbrush then you are inevitably increasing the pressure you're using. I use an electric toothbrush all the time now and the only time I get the head-vibrating feeling is when I close my lips around it (and I find it super horrible). I tend to brush with my lips fully open, toothpaste drooling everywhere and with my face right over the sink, for obvious reasons! Means I need to wipe toothpaste from round my mouth afterwards but I'd be doing that anyway.
posted by kadia_a at 2:13 AM on May 12, 2012

Oh, and I'm pressing as light as possible, but I have a very small mouth

You can maybe try kiddie sized toothbrushes instead of adult sized ones, then. They are almost always softer and the smaller heads are less awkward for getting at the very back teeth.
posted by elizardbits at 9:01 AM on May 14, 2012

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