Colleen Rex admits she is “obsessed with oral care.”
In 2017, she began oral surgery for two years harvesting tissue from the roof of her mouth to repair her receding gum line. She never wants to experience that again.
“I want to keep my teeth as long as possible,” says Rex, 51, a nurse who lives in Pennsport.
Rex has been using an electric toothbrush for over 15 years, which her dentist recommended because of her medical history. Last November, she made a major upgrade that she hopes will keep her teeth even cleaner: the Sonicare Prestige 9900, an artificial intelligence (AI) electric toothbrush that provides real-time data on how well she’s brushing. For $300 she got it for a bargain. These souped-up “smart” toothbrushes retail for a whopping $400.
The oral care industry is booming, with increasingly powerful and stylish electric brushes, toothpastes that promise glossy white enamel and reusable dental floss. Global sales of electric toothbrushes were just under $3 billion in 2020 and are expected to exceed $4 billion by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights†
But as is often the case in healthcare, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. Dental professionals insist that a traditional manual toothbrush, fluoride toothpaste, and floss will do the job just as well — as long as they’re used properly and accompanied by a healthy diet and routine checkups.
“Perodontitis doesn’t happen overnight and it can’t be reversed overnight,” said Mark Wolff, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and a practicing dentist for 38 years. “You can’t suddenly brush your teeth really well and expect your mouth to suddenly deteriorate.”
The key to a good brushing with a manual toothbrush is to use it correctly – and not everyone can do that.
Electric toothbrushes can be especially helpful for those with dexterity issues, who can’t grip the narrow handle of a manual toothbrush and brush in circular motions twice a day for the recommended two minutes. And if a nice toothbrush encourages you to brush more often, that’s great, too, Wolff said.
The latest AI toothbrushes, like Rex’s, use Bluetooth to relay your brushing stats to your phone. Rex’s toothbrush app tells her how often and for how long she brushes, and if she’s missed any crevices. According to Sonicare’s website, the brush automatically adjusts the intensity when it senses the user is brushing too hard.
“I’ve stated that I’m interested in gum care and don’t want to brush too hard,” says Rex, who clicks on the app and puts the phone on the sink as she takes out her toothbrush. “It tells me how long to brush each quadrant and asks things like the intensity, duration, and pressure I want.”
Sonicare claims to be AI brush removes up to 20 times more plaque than a manual toothbrush and can give users “up to 15 times healthier gums in just two weeks,” according to the company’s website.
A line of expensive toothpastes similarly makes promises that may sound too good to be true. Some guarantee whiter or brighter teeth, while others specify that they are specially formulated for sensitive teeth or those with gum disease.
“All toothpastes that say they whiten have the effect of whitening,” Wolff said. They’ll lift surface stains and whiten enamel to some degree, but they won’t “whiten toilet bowl” your teeth, he said.
Whitening toothpaste is quickly diluted by saliva and rinsing, said Bryan Katz, co-owner and dentist at Corner Dentistry in Bella Vista. If you really want whiter teeth, consider an appropriate whitening tray that will hold the bleach in place, he said.
Can’t afford the latest and greatest oral care? That’s fine. Good oral hygiene habits are much more important.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth with a soft-bristled brush for at least two minutes twice a day. Replace your toothbrush at least every four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed, as a worn-out toothbrush will not brush your teeth properly.
For toothpaste, choose one that contains fluoride and is ADA approved. Fluoride is the main ingredient in toothpaste because it protects teeth from tooth decay by strengthening enamel developing and slowing the acid production of bacteria caused by plaque.
If you suddenly become addicted to gummy bears, there is no toothpaste in the world that can protect you.
Flossing, Katz said, is underestimated.
“Bacteria can get between your gums, and if you don’t stimulate those gums and don’t remove those bacteria at least once a day, it can lead to inflammation,” he said.
There are many floss products on the market — traditional floss, floss sticks, electric water flossers, biodegradable bamboo floss, even reusable silicone floss — and any of them will do the trick, he said.
Another overlooked way to improve your dental health: cut back on the sugar. Brushing and flossing regularly can make up for small amounts of sugar, but eating too much is harmful to your teeth.
“If you suddenly become addicted to gummy bears, there is no toothpaste in the world that will protect you,” Wolff said.
And don’t skip routine dental cleanings. Once a year is enough for people with healthy teeth, Wolff said. People with bleeding gums or tooth decay may need to see the dentist every three months.
Rex, who sees her dentist four times a year, thinks her gum problems stemmed from the back-and-forth sawing motion and the stiff brush she used as a child.
Her electric toothbrush has made a big difference. Rex’s dentist measures her gums at every visit and hasn’t noticed any negative changes in years.
“If I didn’t have my Sonicare, I don’t think I would know how to brush my teeth with a manual toothbrush,” Rex said.