Electric Toothbrushes Review
Manual, Electric & Sonic Toothbrushes: Which Is Best for You?
The top performers in our review are the Sonicare FlexCare Platinum, the Gold Award Winner; the Sonicare DiamondClean, the Silver Award Winner; and the Sonicare FlexCare Plus, the Bronze Award Winner. Here’s more on choosing an electric toothbrush to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 devices.
Although electric toothbrushes were invented in the 1950s, they didn’t gain popularity until the last 15 years. Since then, the industry has exploded. You now have your choice of electric brushes, ranging from cheap throwaway ones to those exceeding $100. As you are choosing a new toothbrush, there are three main types of consider: manual, electric and sonic. With a manual toothbrush, the greatest indicator of efficacy is your own brushing habits rather than the brush itself. On the other hand, there are marked differences between how electric and sonic toothbrushes perform. Our reviews cover both electric and sonic brushes.
Electric toothbrushes generally fall in two categories: those that vibrate and those that rotate or oscillate back and forth. You use a vibrating toothbrush in the same way you use a manual toothbrush, making brushing and polishing movements to reach all of your teeth. If your brush head has rotating or oscillating bristles, the toothbrush makes the brushing motion for you; you simply move the brush head from tooth to tooth, and it does most of the work.
Sonic brushes are defined by the rate of brush movement. Sonic brushes vibrate so quickly, 24,000 to 48,000 movements per minute, they make an audible hum. Most electric brushes that aren’t sonic make a mechanical sound, and you can see the motion of the head. Some brushes move more quickly than the range of a sonic brush, and these are referred to as ultrasonic. Ultrasonic toothbrushes exceed 2.4 million movements per minute, and the sound emitted is beyond the scope of human hearing. Some brushes can brush in sonic and ultrasonic modes.
There is some evidence that suggests a sonic brush can clean areas where other brushes can’t. The very high level of vibration can send water and toothpaste into areas that other electric brushes may not reach. Users of sonic brushes often report a more clean feeling mouth, which is a benefit itself.
There are some drawbacks to electric toothbrushes. The most obvious is cost. Cheaper electric brushes require replacement batteries and usually don’t last long. Many of the best electric brushes require an investment of $100 or even close to $200. Also, the charging stations and accessories can be quite large and take up a lot of space in small bathrooms. They can be a bit of an eyesore as well, sometimes with garish displays and bright colors. Brushes that branch out of a white color palette don’t hide mess very well either, and if you are fastidious about your bathroom’s appearance, this would mean another surface to frequently wipe down. For more information on various electric toothbrush features and models, check out our articles on electric toothbrushes.
The Effectiveness of an Electric Toothbrush
According to the latest research, there’s little difference in how well manual brushes and electric brushes remove plaque. There are still reasons to buy electric toothbrushes, and they often provide benefits that justify the difference in cost. If you brush for two minutes at least twice a day in a circular, polishing movement, you may not see any difference by switching to an electric toothbrush. In fact, many of our testers who routinely brush with manual brushes preferred the more gentle experience of that brush style, and some of the brushes left our testers with sore mouths.
Many electric brushes offer features that help users maximize the time they spend cleaning their teeth. Most people don’t brush for a full two minutes, even though they may believe they do. Nearly all the brushes we tested include a timer that shuts the brush off at two minutes and have timed intervals to tell you when to move to the next quadrant of teeth. Old, stiffened and bent bristles don’t clean effectively, and if they harden from residue, they can wear away at your enamel and damage your gums. Some electric toothbrushes remind you when it’s time to replace the brush head.
If you have mobility issues, arthritis, are easily fatigued or have poor motor skills, an oscillating or rotating brush head reduces the movement required for cleaning. Some brushes come with the means to clean their brush heads or even have enclosed cases to keep them clean. If you habitually brush too hard, most brushes alert you if you’re applying too much pressure.
If your brushing habits aren’t perfect, an electric toothbrush can give you enough reminders and tips to do it right. Some use Bluetooth and mobile apps, separate included screens, or indicators on the body to promote proper brushing.
Electric Toothbrushes: What We Tested, What We Found
Our testers tried the toothbrushes side-by-side for several days. We looked for a comfortable handle and a brush that wasn’t too rough. Our testers, particularly those who typically used manual brushes, preferred thinner handles and soft bristles. Each tester scored the brush based on how clean their mouths felt afterwards.
Most of the brushes had additional features. Some only come with one brush head, and replacements can be costly. Others supplied 10 or more heads, presumably enough to last the life of the brush. One of the most helpful common features was a timer that stopped the brush after two minutes, and even better, some alerted the user to change quadrants.
We also looked for pressure sensitivity to prevent gum recession, a common concern for aggressive brushers and new electric toothbrush users. A travel case, simple setup and separate modes for polishing, whitening and gum massage were a plus.
Some of the less common features were a flossing water jet, Bluetooth-enabled tracking on a separate notification screen or smartphone app, and a UV sanitizer. There is some debate about the efficacy of the UV sanitizer, so we gave this feature little weight in our evaluation.
Since some brushes exceed the $100 mark, we looked for some kind of guarantee. Most of the brushes are warrantied for either one or two years. We also looked for online manuals, FAQs and help sections on the manufacturers’ websites. In addition, it should be easy to contact customer services with any issues setting up or troubleshooting your toothbrush.
Our Verdict & Recommendations for Electric Toothbrushes
The Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum is comfortable to hold, lightweight and left our testers with a satisfied, clean feeling. It has a self-timer and is sensitive to the pressure you apply. In addition to the toothbrush, you get a travel charger and case, additional head and option for people with sensitive teeth. The model we tested included a UV sanitizer for the brush heads. While there’s little hard data on the efficacy of these sanitizers, it likely provides some piece of mind. We did find that the model we tested produced an unusual, though faint, ringing noise. For these reasons, we ranked the Sonicare FlexCare as the best electric toothbrush and gave it our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
The Sonicare DiamondClean stood out as the most attractive option and is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award Winner. It has a slim handle with a pleasant ceramic finish. The toothbrush charges in a glass cup that can go through the dishwasher. To some, it felt gimmicky, but most of our testers appreciated how little space it took up. Sonicare brushes are more gentle on the first use. It gradually increases the intensity, which helps you acclimate to the brush. It nearly mirrored the Flexcare Plus in performance, but was slightly edged out by the Flexcare Platinum primarily by a difference in features.
Our Bronze Award Winner, the Sonicare FlexCare Plus, had similar features to the top two, but dipped slightly below in the user experience. While it cleans quite effectively, it takes a few days to get used to. It has a lightweight body, but the handle wasn’t quite as comfortable, and the design was slightly less appealing. All in all, it is a great brush and the performance was solid.
There are some other good options that didn’t make our top three. The Waterpik Complete Care was well-liked for its performance, and the addition of a flossing water pick is a big draw. If you have braces or dentures it makes cleaning a breeze. While many users found the Pursonic S500 to be a little rough, it includes 12 heads, which is far more than the two dominate brands, Philips and Oral-B.