Gum recession & sensitivity are common issues
Receding gums occur when gums are damaged and attach to the tooth lower down than before. It results in the root of the tooth being exposed instead of covered up. This gingival recession is very common, with recent studies estimating more than 60% of people have receding gums to some extent.
Receding gums can be caused by gum disease (as well as other things). It is also a normal part of ageing to some extent. Gum recession can then result in tooth sensitivity (but not always). Sensitivity is an over-reaction to hot, cold, eating, drinking and touch.
Tooth sensitivity is very common — about a third of people experience it. Not all tooth sensitivity is caused by gum recession. Not all gum recession is caused by gum disease. Using an electric toothbrush with the correct technique can help both of these conditions. I have made some reliable recommendations below, based on studies that have been completed and our own hands-on testing.
Make sure you read the advice below about how to use your toothbrush, and the types of brushes you should avoid.
Important features to look for
The three features we usually advise paying for in an electric toothbrush are:
These help to improve your brushing technique without adding too much cost.
All of our recommendations below include these features. We've given extra focus to the pressure sensor because brushing too hard can contribute to tooth sensitivity and worsen receding gums. A pressure sensor alerts you if you're using too much force, so it's a feature worth paying for.
Our recommendations also include brushes that have a softer cleaning mode. They are also compatible with the softer style brush heads that are manufactured by their respective brand. We explain all of these features in more detail in the buyer's guide below.
Oral-B Pro 2 2000
Why it's the best:
The Pro 2 2000 includes the most important features for someone with receding gums or sensitive teeth: a pressure sensor, gentle cleaning mode and compatibility with Oral-B's soft brush heads. It doesn't have lots of additional features driving up the price and (if you go for the black version) it includes a travel case, which is good for this price range.
If you're suffering with one of these conditions, a pressure sensor helps to make sure you don't brush too hard and make things worse. The Pro 2 2000 has a visible pressure sensor that lights up red when you brush too hard. The motor then slows down until the pressure is reduced.
The 2000 comes with a gentle cleaning mode, which doesn't use the full power of the motor and helps if your teeth or gums are feeling sensitive. Although not provided in the box, Oral-B's softer bristled head, the Gum Care, is compatible and can be bought separately. Oral-B's small round brush heads are easy to move around even the most crowded mouths.
Read our Oral-B Pro 2 2000 Review.
Good value for money
No sensitive head in the box
Visible pressure sensor
Defaults to the daily clean mode
Gentle cleaning mode
Compatible with sensitive brush head
Travel case included
Sonicare ProtectiveClean 4300
Why it's almost as good:
The Sonicare ProtectiveClean 4300 is roughly equivalent to the Oral-B Pro 2 2000. The reason we give the 2000 a slightly stronger recommendation is because it has a large visible pressure sensor and tends to be a bit cheaper.
Personally, I do think the light of the 2000 makes it more obvious, particularly when most of us tend to brush in front of a mirror. The flashing amber light on the ProtectiveClean is on the wrong side of the handle for you to really notice it.
When the 4300 detects too much force is being applied, the handle vibrates and the brushing sensation changes. The vibration will kick in every time too much pressure is applied and within a few days you will get used to how much pressure is appropriate.
It actually only offers 1 cleaning mode, but there is the ability to select between 2 different brushing intensities. The lower intensity mode is likely going to be more comfortable if you have sensitive teeth or gums.
Read our Sonicare ProtectiveClean 4300 Review.
Vibrating pressure sensor
No sensitive head in the box
Travel case included
Low intensity cleaning mode
Compatible with soft heads
Best pressure sensor
What makes it stand out:
The iO4 is the cheapest brush from the Oral-B iO range, which has a slicker look and more features than other Oral-B brushes. It does mean the brushes are more expensive as a result.
The main feature worth paying for is the advanced pressure sensor, which has 3 different colour alerts: white (low pressure) – not enough force is being applied; green – the right amount of pressure is being used; red – high or excessive pressure is being applied.
Whilst this is a really nice implementation, the pressure sensor on the Pro 2000 is perfectly adequate and comes at a lower cost. It's worth bearing in mind that brush heads for the iO range are also more expensive.
Advanced pressure sensor
Gentle cleaning mode
Compatible with sensitive brush head
Travel case included
Top of the range
Sonicare 9900 Prestige
Expensive, but exquisite:
The Prestige is the best smart toothbrush on the market today. It has far more than you need and isn't worth the spend unless you think you will truly make the most of the smart features.
It's the only Sonicare brush that has a visible pressure sensor implementation similar to those of Oral-B. When you brush too hard it vibrates the handle with a particular pattern and flashes the light ring at the bottom of the handle with a purple light. Both of these will remain active until the pressure is reduced.
If you continually brush too hard, it will even reduce the intensity of the cleaning mode, if it can.
It looks fantastic and feels great in hand. The smooth touch materials are good quality and easy to keep clean. The Sonicare app can tell you precisely where you have and haven’t brushed. It will tell you if you brushed with too much pressure and if you scrubbed the teeth.
It comes with a stylish and compact USB-C enabled charging case and you can get up to 4 weeks use from one charge. One downside is that the power and intensity buttons require a firm push. They don’t give a lot of feedback.
Read our Sonicare Prestige 9900 Review.
Visible pressure sensor alerts you when brushing too hard
4 weeks use on a single charge
No place to store the detachable USB cable
Slim charging travel case included
Bluetooth isn’t essential
Reduces intensity if you brush too hard
Compatible with soft brush head
Tracks & monitors your brushing
Buyer's guide: useful things to know if you've got receding gums or sensitive teeth
This section has been put together based on my experience as a dentist and the studies that I have read related to gum disease and tooth sensitivity.
Browse the sections below, and if you can’t find the information you need, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page and we’ll get back to you.
Brushes and behaviour to avoid
This Heasman et al review found the most common causes of receding gums are:
- Brushing too often
- A horizontal or scrub brushing technique (most common with manual toothbrushes)
- Hard toothbrush bristles
- Brushing for too long
- Using a worn toothbrush
Because of this I would recommend avoiding hard bristled toothbrushes. Avoid using a worn brush by changing your brush head every 3 months, or when bristles appear splayed or worn (whatever is sooner).
It is mostly with manual toothbrushes that you will need to avoid a hard bristle option. All of our electric toothbrush recommendations above can be used with a specialist sensitive brush head, which has softer bristles than the standard issue brush heads.
If you struggle to remember to replace your brush head, you could opt for one of the Sonicare options in the list above, which come with a built-in brush head replacement reminder system.
You can get a brush that includes our recommended features for less than $100
Toothbrushes can come with all manner of features at different prices. From our testing, the most essential features to look for in an electric toothbrush are:
- 2 minute timer — this helps to ensure that you brush your teeth for 2 minutes each time, which is recommended by dentist and governing bodies around the world.
- Pacer — this helps you to spread your brushing time evenly across all parts of the mouth.
- Pressure sensor — frequently brushing too hard will severely damage your teeth. A pressure sensor alerts you when you are brushing too hard so you can adjust your technique. This feature is particularly useful if you already suffer from sensitivity or receding gums.
All of our recommendations above include these features. Our main recommendation is usually available for less than $100. If you spend more than this you get some extra features and nice design, but they are more of an optional extra than a requirement. We have a post that lists other electric toothbrushes that come with a pressure sensor.
Should you want to spend even less, you could opt for a brush without a pressure sensor, such as the budget pick in our best electric toothbrush post.
A smart toothbrush is only worth it if you'll use all the features
Typically we don't recommend smart toothbrushes because they are very expensive and have more features than you need. There is no evidence currently available to support the use of a smart toothbrush over a normal electric toothbrush.
As a dentist, I would point out that many of the benefits advertised by a smart toothbrush can be gained more affordably elsewhere, such as by setting a calendar reminder on your phone, or by learning proper techniques from our videos and your own dental professional.
It's worth pointing out that we have included a couple of smart brushes in our recommendations above. Price wise, the iO4 is at the lower range of the smart brush range. It has a more advanced pressure sensor than cheaper brushes, but the pressure sensor on the Pro 2 2000 is perfectly adequate.
We've also included the Sonicare Prestige as a recommendation for those that think they'll make use of the features. If you feel like you need the extra assistance to make sure you are covering all areas of the mouth, perhaps it is worth it. Otherwise, if you already have a good routine and technique, a cheaper brush will be fine for you.
Oral-B and Sonicare make sensitive / soft brush heads
Brush heads can vary in the firmness of the bristles. Always avoid brushes labelled as “firm” - you simply don’t need the firmness to get a good clean. You can do more harm than good to your gums and teeth using hard toothbrushes.
Even standard heads may feel too aggressive if you have sensitive teeth and gums. Leading brands cater for this with ‘Sensitive’ brush heads that are included in the box or can be purchased separately. They have much softer bristles to help avoid triggering any additional sensitivity.
When your condition has improved you can then move to regular toothbrush heads again.
For receding gums or sensitive teeth, I recommend you try the Gum Care head for an Oral-B brush.
We have a post on the best Oral-B brush heads that explains the range in detail.
For Sonicare BrushSync brushes try the G2 Optimal Gum Care head. It is BrushSync heads that have Sonicare's reminder technology built in. They are more expensive than the non-BrushSync heads.
For non-BrushSync brushes try the S Sensitive head. It's worth noting that these are also compatible with BrushSync heads.
We have a guide on the best Sonicare brush heads that goes into more detail about the various options.
Brush heads vary in price
The cost of replacement heads affects the long term ownership cost, so it is worth factoring into your decision. Oral-B brush heads are cheaper than Sonicare. It’s recommended that you replace your brush head every 3 months. If you follow that advice you’ll need 4 brush heads a year, and this cost does add up. You can save money by buying when there’s a deal on or by buying in bulk.
Gentle cleaning modes can be useful
All of the brushes we have recommended above come with some form of gentle or reduced intensity cleaning mode. This is in addition to the standard ‘clean’ or ‘daily clean’ mode.
Most people with receding gums have some element of gum disease. The most important factor is removing plaque thoroughly. This comes down to technique, and knowing how to brush properly.
Because of this, you don’t need to use a special cleaning mode. However, if you find that you have sensitivity on your teeth or sore gums, a more gentle cleaning mode can be used.
These modes operate the brush motor at a lower speed. The idea is that this will reduce the pressure on the teeth while continuing to deliver a consistent power and motion, unlike when using a manual brush.
This is good to prevent over brushing, and reduce pressure if you have sore gums. As your gums heal and as sensitivity reduces you can switch to the regular mode.
We have comprehensive guides Oral-B brushing modes and Sonicare brushing modes. What each option means depends on the brand, and even the model. But look out for terms like “gum care”, “sensitive”, and “massage” for less intense cleaning modes.
Sonic toothbrushes may feel more "gentle" if you have sensitivity or soreness
Studies have shown that oscillating-rotating brushes are slightly better at plaque removal and reducing levels of gingivitis, compared to sonic toothbrushes.
However, both types offer consistent motions and are more effective than manual toothbrushes for most people.
Sonic toothbrushes feel more “gentle” and may be more comfortable to use, especially if you have sensitive teeth or sore gums.
Oscillating and rotating technology is generally associated with Oral B, whilst sonic technology is associated with Philips Sonicare.
How an electric toothbrush can help with gum disease
As gum disease is the leading cause of receding gums, having a toothbrush that helps manage it is important.
Managing gum disease is all about reducing the amount of plaque on the teeth and under the gums. An important part of this is physical removal by toothbrushing and interdental cleaning.
Reviews by Van der Weijden Niederman and Yaacob et al support the fact that electric toothbrushes help with gum disease. More recently, an 11 year long study by Pitchika et al has examined long term successes of electric toothbrush users. These papers have found:
- Electric toothbrushes remove more plaque than manual toothbrushes, in both the short and long term.
- Electric toothbrushes provide a benefit in reducing levels of gum disease compared to manual toothbrushes, both in the short term (6%) and long term (11%).
- Electric toothbrushes reduce the progression of advanced gum disease, with users having less bone loss.
- Users of electric toothbrushes, and who have gum disease, are less likely to lose teeth.
How an electric toothbrush can help with receding gums
Using an electric toothbrush helps to change your technique to prevent further gum recession.
A review by Heasman et al compared users of manual toothbrushes and electric toothbrushes. After 12 months, they found that manual toothbrush users had more gingival recession compared to people using electric toothbrushes.
Using an electric toothbrush also means you change technique from scrubbing with a manual toothbrush, to the rotating or vibrating technique with the electric toothbrush. As improper brushing technique is one of the main causes of gum recession, this is an important difference.
If you are brushing too hard an electric toothbrush offers obvious benefits because of the pressure sensors they come with. This will prevent you pushing too hard when brushing and protect your gums and teeth from the effects of excess force.
Some people are concerned a power toothbrush can cause more damage, but evidence has shown that electric toothbrushes are of no greater concern to teeth and gums than a manual toothbrush. Some studies even support the use of electric toothbrushes to prevent worsening tooth wear caused by over brushing.
Advice on using a manual toothbrush when you have receding gums
Some people will see benefits when using an electric toothbrush instead of a manual toothbrush.
But I understand that not everyone wants to use an electric toothbrush, for a variety of reasons.
If you don’t have an electric toothbrush, is there a safe way to use a manual toothbrush if you have receding gums?
Yes, but it is difficult to tell if you are getting the technique right.
Follow this basic toothbrushing guide. The key points when you have receding gums:
- Do not scrub at the teeth.
- Use gentle pressure - a similar amount to if you are shaving.
- Use small side to side movements at the gum level, focussing on one tooth at a time rather than covering multiple teeth with each movement.
- Use a soft or medium toothbrush. Avoid firm toothbrushes.
- Replace your toothbrush every 3 months or when the bristles start to look damaged.
- Spend 2 minutes twice a day.
- Cover all areas of your mouth by spending 30 seconds per quarter - use a timer. This avoids putting too much pressure in just one area.
- Be thorough - make sure no plaque is left behind to avoid gum disease.
Closing comments: reasons to be optimistic
Receding gums are most often caused by gum disease. And tooth sensitivity is often a result of receding gums (but not always).
Preventing and managing gum disease is the key to managing gum recession and tooth sensitivity. A good routine that brushes away plaque reduces the chances of further buildup and the chances of developing advanced gum disease.
Brush twice a day, for at least 2 minutes a time, with a toothbrush that is in good condition, and you should be able to keep these conditions under control. We've recommended some reliable choices above, but if you don't want an electric brush you can check out our post on manual brushes.
Visit your dentist at regular intervals (usually 6 or 12 months), to spot any changes before they become a problem. If you are concerned about any changes or start getting new sensitivity, visit a dental professional for advice.
It is cheaper and easier to fix a problem in the early stages!