Help me electric toothbrush
October 3, 2019 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm 48. Speak to me like I'm five. Why can't I figure out how to brush my teeth with an electric toothbrush without getting drool *everywhere* and getting the non-brush hard plastic bits grinding against other teeth and gums?

Seriously. My dentist is constantly on me about using an electric toothbrush. I even bought a fancy Sonicare from him. Here's what happens. I stick it in my mouth and try to move it along the gumline as suggested. Drool comes out my mouth and gets all over my clothing. I can't seem to open my mouth wide enough. I can't get it on the inside edges without the other vibrating parts of the brush whacking and grinding against other teeth. Also the high speed buzzing freaks me out.

I've tried all three settings. I feel like a technologically challenged idiot. What am I doing wrong? It seems like I'd just be better off using a regular toothbrush if I cannot even get this one to touch half the parts it's supposed to be brushing. How do you electric toothbrush?
posted by media_itoku to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't seem to open my mouth wide enough

Try instead, to the extent possible, keeping your lips together (as in McNally) to keep stuff from spraying out. An electric toothbrush definitely takes some getting used to so just keep at it. They are definitely more drool-inducing than a manual toothbrush, but manageable over the sink and worth the learning curve.
posted by exogenous at 9:35 AM on October 3, 2019 [8 favorites]

Agree that keeping your mouth more closed may be the key. Also try brushing your teeth in the shower, then the drool doesn't matter.
posted by mskyle at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2019

I have to pretty much stick my head in the sink. This sucks because our bathrooms have freakishly low counters, so basically I'm resting on my free elbow with my forehead nearly touching the faucet. I do nearly have my mouth closed around the brush as well, and I had some plastic-buzzing issues at first but once I learned to move smoothly and slowly I stopped banging it around in there.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2019

Yeah, it's the opposite to how you'd brush with a manual toothbrush--you keep your mouth almost closed. If you have your mouth open like you're using a manual toothbrush, that's not going to work too well.
posted by Automocar at 9:58 AM on October 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

Are you jamming it against your teeth and gums? I don't think you need to use force; it is just supposed to be in contact.
posted by thelonius at 10:09 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Oral-B style of electric toothbrush, where the head rotates, may work better for you than a Sonicare, where the head vibrates back and forth.
posted by zsazsa at 10:10 AM on October 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

At the first dental checkup I had after switching to an Oral-B electric toothbrush, my dentist noticed that my gums were a little inflamed and asked if I got a new electric toothbrush. He said that that's a pretty common thing that can happen when people try to brush with an electric toothbrush the way you do with a manual one.

He told me rather than vigorously brushing or pressing down with the brush, you want to just rest the toothbrush against your teeth up to the gum line and let the brush do the scrubbing for you with just minimal hand/wrist movement. It was a TOUGH habit for me to break, but eventually I did, and my gums are much happier now. (And yes, more closed mouth is better than open mouth with electric toothbrushes!)
posted by helloimjennsco at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

In addition to keeping my mouth more closed, I’ve found it helpful to use small amounts of toothpaste, to barely “wet” the brush head, and to gently suck in the “drippings,” which admittedly isn’t an easy thing to do for two straight minutes but does help a little bit.
posted by cheapskatebay at 10:21 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jaws open, lips closed. This gives you room to angle the brush into the inside edges of your back teeth without hitting your front teeth, and the closed lips prevent toothpaste from spraying all over the place. A quick spit partway through also helps keep the drool under control.
posted by telepanda at 10:23 AM on October 3, 2019

Even with your lips shut, drool may sluice down the handle. To work against this, keep the handle elevated -- like horizontal, or even higher than the brush head -- while it's in your mouth.

Also, use only a tiny, pea-size ball of toothpaste.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:36 AM on October 3, 2019

Yes, keep your lips closed around it as much as possible. Jaw loose. Don't shove or scrub the brush against your teeth; you only need to keep the bristles in light contact with the teeth/gumline. Get the smallest head size you can find! If your brush has the little beep every thirty seconds, it really helps with making sure you're getting the entire mouth without over scrubbing any area. There will be occasional drool, but not a lot--you only need a very small amount of toothpaste with this kind of brush.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:39 AM on October 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've found the opposite on toothpaste: more is better. The surfactants (foaming agents) in toothpaste thicken in your mouth. My conspiracy theory is that Crest started removing surfactants to force people to use more volume of toothpaste for the same effect.
posted by wnissen at 10:47 AM on October 3, 2019

There are smaller size brushheads available. Also brush teeth while naked. Any drool or spatter wipes right off!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:55 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, lips shut, gently hold brush against teeth letting the brush do the work, elbow up.

If you're worried about drooling with an electric toothbrush wait till you get a Waterpik.
posted by needled at 10:57 AM on October 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! It occurs to me that I really buried the lede here. The drool is annoying but manageable, and I'm definitely not scrubbing or moving the brush in a manual way. It's the "there's a high-speed jackhammer in my mouth and I must keep all movable bits in my mouth away from it or all my teeth will break and fall out" thing - I actually started out with the "lips closed mouth open" thing but it just meant the non-parts of the brush are even more likely to bang against other teeth. Or maybe the "sonic" thing is too much and I should start with a rotating head as zsazsa suggests.

I should also mention that when I get my teeth polished at the dentist I have to have a little embarrassing pause-and-cry on the chair. All the hand-held scraping is fine. It's the machine. And actually I just gagged and had a mini panic attack at the thought of having my mouth closed while the Sonicare is in there. So maybe it's psychological.
posted by media_itoku at 11:04 AM on October 3, 2019

Does your toothbrush have a training module? Most of the Sonicare ones do. If yours does, do a hard reset on it and work your way up through the training module - it starts at lower power and eases you up, that might help you with your fear. It seems like a lot of your problem is anxiety, there is no way that the toothbrush is going to hurt you, but if you have to stop and cry that's definitely a problem!

Are you actually pressing at all? My hygienist describes the motion as a 'tickle.' Sonic toothbrushes are actually different (and better) than the Oral-B rotating ones - they send sound waves into the gums which break up bacteria, you really do not need to make serious contact, just a light touch will do.

I'm confused about how you're bumping the back of the brush head into your other teeth. Maybe try a smaller brush head and try again with the 'mouth open lips closed' thing - that really does solve the splatter issue too. But mainly, try a smaller brush head. I got some generic ones at CVS that fit my Sonicare that are smaller and less expensive, maybe you can find those?

Good luck, I'm sorry this is hard for you.
posted by epanalepsis at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2019

I just realized - I had a Sonicare in the past and found it unusable not just to my mouth, but also to my hand/wrist/elbow, it was just unpleasant to hold when it was on. My current sonic is a Waterpik and I really love it. I notice I am using a teensy little brush head compared to my husband's Quip, and I think that helps with the hitting-other-teeth clearance.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The oral-b brushes aren't as highly rated as the Sonicares, but it might just be the ultrasound action of the sonicare just irritates you. I think the standard oralb head is also smaller than the standard sonicare head. Maybe you could try the dirt cheap battery version of the Oral B and see if it bothers you less?

The brushes are compatible with the more expensive oral b models if you decide to move up later. I've actually used some variant of this model for well over a decade now because I've usually had tiny bathrooms that didn't leave me much space for a brush charger (I use rechargeable AA batteries with it)
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2019

and gets all over my clothing.

tl;dr Lean over the sink.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:12 PM on October 3, 2019

If I find myself with excess saliva, I just stop the brush, spit it out and resume brushing.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:17 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Let the brush do all the work. and very lightly.

Think of it like a bee dance. The bee is not jamming itself against the plant, it’s just, ahem, brushing, here and then there, not trying to hit everything at once. So, very light touch, light pressure. Leave the brush on this tooth for a few seconds, then small wiggle over to the next and on and on. The job’ll get done, you just need to do the guiding.

I don’t know if this will help you any either, but I find this little two minute dance incredibly boring and so I tend to distract myself a bit by using the time to see how long I can balance on one foot. Then the other for a quadrant, etc. Maybe just taking some of the pressure off the tooth brushing activity will help?
posted by iamkimiam at 12:25 PM on October 3, 2019

Thanks for the update. It definitely takes some practice, even with the practice mode, to get to the point where you're not banging the back of the brushead into the other teeth. Though I've never had as intense a reaction as you have had to the ultrasonic cleaning at the dentist. I would look up your manual, reset the brush so it's on the most gentle setting, and work my way up maybe 5 seconds at a time. Seriously. Just brush for like 5 seconds. Next time 10, etc. The Sonicare is so, so much better at cleaning that you only really need about 3 seconds as long as you make contact with all the surfaces, including the gumline. It truly changed my life, going to the dentist is no longer a source of pain.
posted by wnissen at 1:21 PM on October 3, 2019

It's definitely very startling when the nonbristly part of the brush meets a tooth. I think it's mostly that it's really loud in your head. I did it constantly when I first tried using the sonicare, and like you I was quite timorous about it, but I don't want anymore GD crowns, so I stuck with it and eventually it quit happening. I don't know what I'm doing differently, but you'll probably learn like I did if you keep at it. Just let froth get everywhere for a while and don't worry about closing your mouth 'til you get over the horror of the jackhammer in your mouth. I now close my mouth and frequently stave off crippling boredom by marching around the house while it's going. Sometimes I do other bedtime routine things while I brush, which often means I'm brushing with my nondominant hand and doing a subpar job, but I still don't jackhammer my teeth like I did at the beginning. You'll get it.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:25 PM on October 3, 2019

Upon reflection, I think one thing I do is kinda use the muscles in my cheeks and my tongue to manipulate the thing--I think my hand is mostly still and I move my mouth around to direct the brush everywhere it's supposed to go. I wish I could give you better instruction; I'll try to pay attention and observe more closely tonight.
posted by Don Pepino at 1:29 PM on October 3, 2019

My dentist is constantly on me about using an electric toothbrush

Mine was able to content himself with my electric flosser use.
The technique remains closing the mouth most of the way and leaning over the sink, without the teeth-whacking and buzzing issues. Waterpik has models with flossers and oscillating/rotating toothbrushes (rather than the sonic/vibrating type). Example. Even if you don't opt for the flosser, you may want an oscillating-type toothbrush.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:14 PM on October 3, 2019

You could just give it up and go back to a regular toothbrush. I believe that it isn't necessarily that these electric toothbrushes are a superior way to brush but the fact that they have a two-minute timer built in. Most people won't brush their teeth for two minutes without a timer. Use your phone as a timer and a regular toothbrush. It might be just a good as the electric toothbrush.
posted by JackFlash at 3:40 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do my toothbrushing in the shower, so I don't have to deal with the drool problem and therefore don't have to keep my mouth shut! If you like to brush your teeth more often than you shower, you could just use a regular toothbrush for those times.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:16 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a sonicare and I don’t see how you would get the non-brush hard bits in contact with teeth or gums. Thinking about how I brush, it seems I move the sonicare such that the brush head hits the tooth directly, thus the handle orthogonal to the tooth surface currently being brushed, and I adapt as I move along. Also, for me, the sonicare has been much gentler than the oral b I had for a little while which resulted in a small spot of enamel damage, YMMV.
posted by meijusa at 6:27 AM on October 4, 2019

The Quip brand electric toothbrush feels much gentler than the Sonicare. It also has a bigger brush head, but the plastic seems softer, so maybe better for incidental bangs around your mouthscape.
posted by Drosera at 8:07 AM on October 4, 2019

Thought about this at home and realized I'm using a totally different technique with the Sonicare, compared to a manual. Lips closed, teeth slightly parted, and if I try anything else I get either a rattling zap of plastic-on-tooth collision or toothpaste everywhere.
posted by wnissen at 1:15 PM on October 8, 2019

Could you try the brushheads designed for children?

They are smaller and may be easier to keep out of the way. They also gave very soft bristles, which is generally recommended anyway.

That's what I use, originally based on recommendation from another AskMe.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2019

« Older Give me your best vegetarian recipes for a Dutch...   |   No more Brooks Pure Cadence! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.