Even though manufacturers introduce new manual brushes at a dizzying rate, improved electric toothbrushes make new converts each year.
"The best guesses put electric toothbrush users at about 20 percent, maybe as high as 25 percent of the market," says Alexandra Artisuk, D.D.S., a general dentist. "Each year, I see more and more of my patients using electric brushes."
If more people are making the switch to electric, why do companies bother to develop new manual brushes?
"Mostly because electric toothbrushes are more expensive than manual brushes, which you can easily purchase for less than $2," says Kathy Hettrich, professional marketing manager for Bausch & Lomb. Her company revolutionized the electric toothbrush industry when it produced the Interplak® toothbrush three decades ago.
"We think more and more people will switch to electric but we don't see a time when manual toothbrushes will be a thing of the past," she says. "It is logical to believe that electric brushes could eventually take over more than half of the market because they are superior plaque removing devices."
Indeed, numerous studies confirm that electric brushes are superior plaque removing devices and are extremely effective in stimulating gums. But consumers like them for another reason: They are simply easier to use, especially for older people who may have dexterity problems.
"You often hear dentists say they don't care whether their patients use a $2 brush or a $100 electric-powered brush, just as long as they use it correctly to remove plaque," says David Engel, D.D.S., Ph.D., director of research and regulatory affairs for the Bellevue, WA-based Optiva Company, maker of Sonicare®. "However, electric brushes have been proven much more effective than manual brushes in many studies."
Another myth, he says, is that electric toothbrushes are nothing more than fancy toys that people use for a while, then stash under the sink. "People use them and keep using them and usually find it hard to return to manual brushes," he says. "The market for electric brushes is increasing because people find them effective."
Some electric models include interchangeable color-coded brush heads, so one power handle can serve a family of brushers. Others have built-in timers. Travelers can find models that go for two weeks without a recharge. The following models represent a new generation of brushes that collect energy from a power base overnight, then operate cordlessly.
- Braun Oral-B® Plaque Remover Deluxe. The stripe on the bristle fades, letting users know when the brush head needs replacing. The handle light blinks when the recommended brushing time--two minutes--expires.
- Oral Ease Automatic Flosser and Power Brush. This brush contains a floss-wrapped flywheel that rotates at 35 revolutions per second, providing users with an automatic flosser.
- Oralgiene®. Multiple brush heads surround teeth and gums, a sensation similar to sending teeth through a car wash.
- Panasonic® Power Floss and Brush. This tool has two brushing motions, three speeds and four color-coded brushes and flossing stems, sized differently for kids and adults. The horizontal and vertical brushing motions combine to mount a multifaceted attack.
- Rota-dent®. Offered only through dentists who personally instruct patients how to use the brush, this implement offers interchangeable brush tips that offer different tools for specific tooth types.
- Sonicare®. Delivers 31,000 strokes per minute; a built-in timer signals an end to brushing after two minutes.
The future, says Dr. Engel, belongs with electric brushes. "The manual brushes really can't go much further," he says. You can make slight adjustments but I think the real advances of the future will come with the electric models."
Or perhaps with models that use other forms of energy, such as ultrasound. The Ultra-Sonex® toothbrush system, manufactured by Sonex International is a manual brush with a transducer embedded in the brush head. Theoretically, the ultrasonic waves are transmitted from the transducer to the brush head and the bristles.
"In many ways, this brush is very similar to a manual model because you brush your teeth just like you would with a manual toothbrush," says Mark Mintzer, DMD, vice president and director of dental professional marketing for Ultra-Sonex. Dr. Mintzer says that sales of the brush have increased dramatically as more dentists become aware of the product and how it works. "You have to convince them this is a legitimate, viable product, because they are skeptical."
The first task, says Dr. Artisuk, is to convince patients to brush, but she agrees there is a certain appeal with electric brushes.
"People are more and more attracted to electric brushes and I've seen more patients cross over and leave their manual brushes behind," she says. "The electric brushes clearly are the ones to watch in the future. They're getting better and better and my guess is that there will come a day when more people have electric brushes than manual ones."
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