The Science Behind Ionic Toothbrushes

© 2015 by Kate Parker, RDH, BS-DH, RF

ionic toothbrushUsing an ionic toothbrush at night before sleeping leaves you with smooth, slippery-clean teeth in the morning

Ionic toothbrushes are still hovering on the fringes of dentistry, and therefore not very many people are even aware that they exist. In fact, a patient of mine told me about them after I commented on how clean and plaque-free her teeth were. I mean really, I had never seen anything like it as a dental hygienist.

I was so impressed by what I saw that I ordered an ionic toothbrush as soon as I got home that evening. Since then I've experienced amazing results personally, and everyone I've recommended them to has come back to me with glowing praise about how smooth and clean their teeth feel.

In fact, if you use the ionic toothbrush at night before sleeping, you will notice something pretty miraculous in the morning: smooth, slippery-clean teeth! And just imagine what you could do for your oral health and hygiene if you used an ionic toothbrush in the morning as well.

When it comes down to it, I'm not sure why ionic toothbrushes are not recommended in every dental office. The results are apparent after just one use. People realize right away that their teeth stay smooth and clean all day long, and are thrilled with how long the ionic effect endures throughout the day.

What Is An Ionic Toothbrush?

ionic toothbrushAs you brush your teeth, the bristles on the brush transfer an ionic charge to the tooth surface

An ionic toothbrush is a toothbrush that has an ionic charge. An ion is just an atom or molecule that carries a net positive or negative charge. (+/-)

The handle contains a small built-in titanium battery that's connected to a titanium rod that runs the length of the toothbrush. Toward the top of the handle, a thin metal band or plate wraps around the circumference of the handle. 

When using the ionic toothbrush, you first moisten your fingers with water. The moisture in your fingers comes in contact with the thin metal band that wraps around the top of the toothbrush handle. This creates a closed circuit. As you brush your teeth, the brush releases an ionic charge. This charge is then transferred to the teeth, which aids in repelling plaque from the tooth surface, in addition to neutralizing acid. An opposite charge on the bristles attracts plaque bacteria away from and out of the oral cavity.

The Science Behind Ionic Toothbrushes

If you've ever taken a basic biology class, you quickly realize that everything in the body works through the interaction of ions (one huge example is the sodium-potassium pump.) These same ionically charged interactions take place throughout the mouth as well, and form the basis of many of the preventative dental techniques in use today.

The tooth surface carries a net negative charge, while plaque bacteria carries a net positive charge. Opposite charges attract, and like charges repel. Therefore, if you could temporarily change the charge on the tooth surface, plaque would be repelled rather than attracted to the teeth. This is where the ionic toothbrush comes in.

ionic toothbrushEverything in the body works via the interaction of ions
  • Opposite charges attract, while like charges repel
  • Teeth carry a net negative charge
  • Plaque bacteria carry a net positive charge
  • The ionic toothbrush releases a stream of positive ions
  • The tooth surface changes polarity from negative to positive
  • Bristles, saliva, and friction cause a net negative charge to the bristles
  • The teeth now carry a temporary positive charge, while the toothbrush bristles extract the plaque bacteria from the oral cavity
  • Positively charged stains are removed from the teeth
  • Acids in the mouth are neutralized

As the bristles enter the moist oral cavity, a stream of positively charged ions is released from the titanium battery/rod. These positive ions "break up" and repel the positively charged plaque that has attached to the teeth. In addition, the tooth surface temporarily changes polarity from negative to positive, further repelling the plaque biofilm. The combination of moving the bristles through the saliva and across the teeth creates a net negative charge on the bristles. In effect this "magnetizes" the plaque to the bristles, thus expelling plaque from the tooth surface and out of the oral cavity very effectively. As a side bonus, positively charged stains are removed from the teeth, and acids produced by oral bacteria are neutralized.

How Effective Are Ionic Toothbrushes?

ionic toothbrushWhen your teeth feel like you just got them cleaned at the dentist, it means that plaque and food particles are no longer sticking to your teeth

Objective research indicates a positive correlation between ionic toothbrushes and plaque removal from the teeth and oral cavity. Subjective evidence, as seen with my patients, my family, and even myself, indicates an enormous positive effect of ionic toothbrushes on the oral cavity. The first time you use one, you will notice that your teeth stay slippery-clean for up to 24 hours, even without brushing after meals the entire next day. When your teeth feel like you just got them cleaned at the dentist, it means that plaque and food particles are no longer sticking to your teeth. 

ionic toothbrushIonic toothbrushes are highly effective at the reduction of plaque in the oral cavity
  1. "Ionic brushes statistically significantly reduced plaque and gingivitis."
  2. "It was concluded that both active and inactive ionic toothbrushes reduced the plaque index and gingival bleeding index scores significantly and active ionic tooth brushes were more effective as compared to inactive ionic toothbrushes."
  3. "Statistically significant improvements in Löe Gingival Index scores were observed from baseline to 6 months between the control and test groups and within the test group. The Quigley-Hein Plaque Index scores also showed a significant improvement from baseline to 6 months between the control and test groups and within the test group."
  4. "Our results confirm findings of other previous studies by Maki et al  and Van Swol et al that reported a significant reduction in gingival index using ionic toothbrush."
  5. "Stannous fluoride with the ionizing brush provided significantly greater [dentinal hypersensitivity] relief than did the stannous fluoride alone."
  6. "The Soladey 2 toothbrush showed significantly more reduction of plaque on the buccal surfaces of all teeth than the control brush."
  7. "In both active and inactive ionic tooth brush groups, there was highly significant reduction of plaque and bleeding index scores from baseline to end of study trial period similar to earlier studies. There was highly significant differences between two groups i.e. active and inactive group with respect to mean plaque scores (active group: 82% reduction, inactive group: 20% reduction)(P<0.01) and bleeding index (active group: 97% reduction; inactive group: 33% reduction) (P<0.001). The above results show that active brushes are most effective in plaque removal than inactive brush and improving gingival status. The difference in plaque score before and after brushing between the groups was highly significant (P < 0.001)."
  8. "The effectiveness of an ionic toothbrush for the removal of dental plaque was investigated. It was found to be significantly more effective than a control ionic toothbrush. The removal of dental plaque can be enhanced by use of an ionic toothbrush."

Ionic toothbrushes are highly effective, and as I said above, every dental office should be recommending them based on objective evidence alone. My star patients are patients who use an ionic toothbrush, hands down. While using other methods like a Waterpik are wonderful for the gums, no other dental devices have the ability to actually repel plaque from the teeth like an ionic toothbrush does. Note: Feel free to check out the clinical studies at the bottom of the page for more information.

How To Use An Ionic Toothbrush

ionic toothbrushCheck the battery on your ionic toothbrush to ensure it's still working properly

Generally ionic toothbrushes are used without toothpaste. I do not use toothpaste with mine, and don't see the necessity in doing so. If you wish, brush with toothpaste and your normal brush first, swish with water, and follow with the ionic toothbrush afterward.

As a dental hygienist, I should remind you that the point of brushing is to remove plaque bacteria from the teeth and oral cavity. It's the plaque's byproducts that cause cavities, gum disease, and other oral problems. Ionic toothbrushes remove plaque very effectively without the use of toothpaste, in addition to neutralizing acid in the mouth. In fact toothpaste may alter the ionic interactions of the brush, so I recommend using an ionic toothbrush without it.

  • Check the battery on your ionic brush to ensure it's still working
  • Wet the bristles with *warm* water (never cold)
  • Moisten your fingers with water
  • Place your wet fingers on the titanium plate encircling the handle
  • Brush methodically in small circles, covering every tooth surface
  • Don't forget to massage the gum line as you brush
  • I usually go around a couple times to make sure everything is fully charged *ka-pow!*
  • Enjoy your just-cleaned feeling for hours to come

Ionic Toothbrush Types & Brands

There are two main types of ionic toothbrush, but both of them work on the same basic principles (changing polarity in the mouth.) Take a look below to see which one you think would work best for you. My personal preference is Dr. Tung's battery powered ionic toothbrush. They make high quality products that are reasonably priced. In addition, they have the best bristles I've found by far (I love them!) I buy many of their other products and have never had any issues with them.

Note: All brands of ionic toothbrush allow you to replace the brush heads. Most will come with at least one extra toothbrush head, but when I bought my Dr. Tung's it came with three. Look around for good package deals before purchasing.

  • Solar powered - these last longer due to their ability to use light to re-charge them. However, most do not have the titanium plate surrounding the handle. The titanium plate is responsible for increasing the power of the ionic transfer. These models generally have pencil-shaped handles.
  • Brands - Soladey-3 (US$20-100)
  • Battery powered - these do not recharge with light, and so will need to be replaced every few years. However, some are rechargeable. The advantage is that they generally have the titanium plate surrounding the handle. This plate increases the conductivity of the battery, allowing for more ion exchange while in use. This increases the ability of the brush to remove plaque. These models generally have rectangular-shaped handles (as pictured above.)
  • Brands - Dr. Tung's (US$19); HyG-2 (US$30)

Recent Ionic Toothbrush Research

  1. The effectiveness of manual versus powered toothbrushes for plaque removal and gingival health: A meta-analysis. Vibhute A, Vandana KL. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2012 Apr;16(2):156-60.
  2. Clinical evaluation of an ionic tooth brush on oral hygiene status, gingival status, and microbial parameterDeshmukh J1, Vandana KL, Chandrashekar KT, Savitha B. Indian J Dent Res. 2006 Apr-Jun;17(2):74-7.
  3. Clinical evaluation of an ionic toothbrush in the removal of established plaque and reduction of gingivitisVan Swol RL, Van Scotter DE, Pucher JJ, Dentino AR. Quintessence Int. 1996 Jun;27(6):389-94.
  4. Comparison of sonic and ionic toothbrush in reduction in plaque and gingivitis. Guljot Singh, D. S. Mehta,1 Shruti Chopra, and Manish Khatri. J Indian Soc Periodontol. 2011 Jul-Sep; 15(3):210–14.
  5. The effectiveness of an electro-ionizing toothbrush in the control of dentinal hypersensitivityJohnson RH, Zulqar-Nain BJ, Koval JJ. J Periodontol. 1982 Jun;53(6):353-9.
  6. Clinical evaluation of a light energy conversion toothbrushHoover JN1, Singer DL, Pahwa P, Komiyama K. J Clin Periodontol. 1992 Jul;19(6):434-6.
  7. Clinical evaluation of an ionic tooth brush on oral hygiene status, gingival status, and microbial parameterJ Deshmukh, KL Vandana, KT Chandrashekar, B Savitha. Indian J Dent Res. 2006; 17(2):74-7.
  8. The effectiveness of an ionic toothbrush with a lithium battery in the removal of dental plaque. T Ansai, S Kasai, C Nakayama, T Hamasaki, et al. J Kyushu Dent Soc. 2000 Aug;54(4):321-25.

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