Electric toothbrushes can help you brush properly
Think about it: How long do you brush your teeth? Thirty seconds? Maybe a minute? And how many times a day? Also, are you absolutely certain whether or not all parts of your mouth are getting equal time and attention?
So what does a good brushing routine entail? Dental experts say you should be brushing for two minutes at least twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist regularly. Manual and electric toothbrushes are equally effective -- it's how you brush that is important, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), not necessarily what you brush with.
But, while experts agree that there is nothing wrong with standard toothbrushes, their downside is that people tend to lack discipline when brushing. A number of reports say most Americans brush for only 30 to 60 seconds, which is half the time recommended by dentists, and that's not nearly long enough to enable the fluoride in toothpaste to do its job. Reviewers say the best electric toothbrushes come with a two-minute timer and are able to reach hard-to-clean areas better than most of us can't manage as well with a manual brush. Many brushes also utilize lights or sounds to notify you to move to the next quadrant of the mouth (upper left, upper right, lower left, and lower right) every 30 seconds.
One differentiator amongst electric toothbrushes is the type of movement the brush head makes. Rotating brush heads spin 360 degrees around while rotating-oscillating heads oscillate from side to side, not making a full circle. Sonic toothbrushes vibrate from side to side at a very rapid speed. While there are studies -- mostly sponsored by electric toothbrush manufacturers -- that claim one type or another is most effective, experts say that they all are effective, and the best one is ultimately a matter of personal preference. In other words, if you'll use the electric toothbrush to its full potential and it's comfortable for you to use, that's the type you should choose.
Rechargeable electric toothbrushes are expensive compared to standard toothbrushes. You can expect to pay upward of $35 for a good powered toothbrush and more than $100 for a top-of-the-line brush. Brush heads need to be replaced as often as you would replace a manual toothbrush, and usually cost more, sometimes more than $10 each. Despite the higher price tag, the most expensive toothbrushes don't always add valuable features or better basic performance. Higher prices are usually associated with more attractive designs or bonus features like multiple cleaning modes or pressure sensors.
Power toothbrushes with replaceable batteries are less expensive, we found several good choices for less than $10, but reviewers say they tend to be noisier and rougher than more expensive, rechargeable models. You also have to factor in the cost of replacing batteries once every four to six weeks.
In addition to electric toothbrushes for adults, we look at electric toothbrushes for kids. Kids' toothbrushes are essentially a mini version of the adults' (to better fit kids' mouths), with similar brush movements and timers, and the addition of bright colors and sometimes characters or music to make brushing more fun.
Waterpik is to electric flossers as Kleenex is to tissues
The name Waterpik has become nearly synonymous with electric water flossers, but in recent years several toothbrush manufacturers have also entered this product category. Some provide an alternate head for their electric toothbrush that can be used to pick teeth, while others have created a version similar to a Waterpik that uses a stream of pressurized water to knock out particles from in between teeth. For those who don't like flossing or who have braces, this product can be extremely useful.
Finding the best electric toothbrushes
There aren't a lot of expert reviews or professional tests of electric toothbrushes, TheSweetHome.com being a notable exception. We found some great choices, though, based upon their recommendations, reviews by independent bloggers, and by evaluating thousands of owner reviews. From there, we narrowed down our top picks based upon the brushes' effectiveness at cleaning teeth, ease of use, features, durability and the cost of ownership.
The best electric toothbrushes
While there doesn't seem to be any kind of reliable consensus as to whether or not an electric toothbrush is better for oral hygiene than a manual toothbrush, many dental professionals recommend electric toothbrushes to ensure their patients maximize their brushing time. They may also be a better choice for those with manual dexterity issues, such as arthritis sufferers.
In the world of electric toothbrushes two manufacturers absolutely stand out: Oral-B and Sonicare. Each utilizes a very distinct brush movement: Oral-B's brushes use rotating-oscillating strokes while Sonicare models use high-velocity lateral vibrations.
However, while Sonicare is undoubtedly a popular maker, its comparable models are pricier, and the reality of the research says that a higher price does not a better electric toothbrush make. As a result, the Oral-B Deep Sweep 1000 (Est. $35) is a logical choice as our Best Reviewed rechargeable power toothbrush in this category. The Deep Sweep 1000 is the top pick of experts, and owners give it high ratings across hundreds of reviews. It's a very basic manual toothbrush -- pretty much just off and on -- but most experts agree that that's all you need.
The Oral-B Deep Sweep does have on great feature though: a built-in pressure sensor that stops bristle movement when it detects that you're brushing too hard, something that's usually not found in power toothbrushes at this price point. The in-handle timer pulses every 30 seconds to remind you to switch to cleaning another area of the mouth; however, it does not shut off after two minutes as most other electric toothbrushes do. Most owners love this feature, saying it allows them to brush longer if they choose to do so, or to move to other areas of the mouth, like the tongue, without having to turn the toothbrush back on. Others say they lose track of how long they brushed and would prefer a two minute shut-off time.
If you prefer that two minute limit, we suggest you take a look at the Philips Sonicare 2 Series (Est. $50). The Sonicare was a runner up in TheSweetHome.com's testing, coming in second to the Oral-B Deep Sweep, but it has a couple of popular features that the Oral-Be lacks. One, of course, is that two-minute shut off time. The other is an easy start mode that gradually increases the brushing power over the first 14 uses, helping you to ease into using an electric toothbrush -- a transition that some do find jarring.
Both the Oral-B and the Sonicare include a charging base and one brush head. Sonicare says the charge on the 2 Series lasts for 14 days. Oral-B says the charge on the Clean Sweep lasts for seven days, but, in testing, TheSweetHome.com found that the Oral-B's charge lasted longer -- 11.5 days in total.
If money is no object and you're all about total hygiene, we highly recommend the Philips Sonicare Flexcare (Est. $160). Users love the five modes -- gum care, daily clean, refresh, massage and sensitive. It can be a bit tricky to figure out which mode you're in at first, you have to learn to "read" the lights, but if you like a variety of brushing options, this is a great choice. A major selling point with the Flexcare is a UV sanitizer that kills the germs on your toothbrush between uses. A lot of owners say they don't even use it, but others say that the sanitizer offers them a plenty of peace of mind, especially if they're recovering from a cold or another virus; they don't have to worry about re-infecting themselves and don't have to replace the brush head before its time.
Cheap electric toothbrushes are a good introduction to power brushing
If you're skeptical about how well you'll like an electric toothbrush, or are leery of spending even $35, much less upwards of $150, we highly recommend picking up a Spinbrush Truly Radiant Toothbrush (Est. $8) and giving it a spin. Obvious puns aside, this basic toothbrush gets hundreds of owner reviews that match or exceed those of the much more expensive Oral-B and Sonicare rechargeable toothbrushes.
Spinbrush Truly Radiant Toothbrushes (there are several different models with different purposes, such as deep cleaning, whitening, etc.) are not rechargeable, rather, they are power toothbrushes that operate on alkaline batteries, in this case two AA batteries. Otherwise, they work much the same as a rechargeable toothbrush.
The Spinbrush Truly Radiant is a fairly simple power toothbrush with a dual-action brush head. Like a rechargeable electric toothbrush, the brush heads are replaceable and should be replaced every three months. Replacement brush heads run about $6.00 each. Many owners say this electric toothbrush works just as well or better as much pricier models, and is outstanding among competing battery-operated power toothbrushes. A few note that this toothbrush is louder and seems to have a much rougher motion than the more expensive rechargeable toothbrushes, but most say they feel like it's a great value compared to rechargeable toothbrushes.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Electric Toothbrush for Kids | Best Electric Flosser | Buying Guide | Our Sources