Do ultrasonic toothbrushes actually work?
A success of modern public health is how well aware we are of the need to keep our teeth clean. Mouths are warm, moist environments with a constant influx of food. That’s everything you need for a happy community of bacteria to thrive. It’s so good that the resulting tooth decay and gum disease are perhaps two of the most prevalent of all human diseases.
Bugs grow on your teeth, fermenting the debris. Acids from this process attack tooth enamel, leading to holes (cavities) – and trips to the dentist.
As if that’s not enough, bugs digesting stray scraps of food cause halitosis, gum disease and a discoloured smile.
In short, there is plenty of motivation to brush.
The venerable toothbrush started life as simple chew sticks, feathers, bones and even porcupine quills. A bristle toothbrush has been found in a dig going back to 1600BC.
The earliest known dentist was Hesyre, of the third dynasty in ancient Egypt c.3200-c.3050BC, who earned enough status to have his tomb inscribed with the label ‘‘Chief of Dentists and Doctors’’. One wonders what advice he gave his patients, but a fair guess is he’d have mentioned oral hygiene.
The latest innovation is the ultrasonic cleaner. It seems there is scarcely any job that cannot be done better with the application of electricity, clever engineering, and a microchip if possible.
Ultrasonic cleaners send high-frequency sound (20-400 kHz) into liquid around the object to be cleaned.
They work by generating tiny ‘‘cavitation’’ bubbles like those you see around a spinning propeller. The bubbles then collapse, sending shockwaves into the communities of bacteria forming the plaque on your teeth.
Dentists use ultrasonic cleaners and consumer versions are also available for home use. I consulted a professor of dentistry for an opinion on these devices.
‘‘We advise people to use ultrasonic toothbrushes if that suits them. They do an effective job of cleaning your teeth, however, I can show you half a dozen studies that say they are better than the traditional toothbrush, and half a dozen that say they are not. If you like gadgets, then it’s your choice’’.