Magazine tests, medical journals and consumer reviews reach a unanimous conclusion: An electric toothbrush is almost always more effective than a manual brush. If used correctly, a manual toothbrush can prevent gingivitis and other oral health ailments, according to dentists. But the reality is that few people floss daily and brush as recommended. Electric toothbrushes can overcome these hurdles by helping users brush for the recommended time and allowing them to access hard-to-reach areas.
Research shows the stark difference between electric and manual toothbrushes. When electric toothbrushes are compared, the difference in effectiveness is minimal. One thing's for sure, Oral-B and Sonicare make the best electric toothbrushes; each utilizes a very distinct brush movement: Oral-B's brushes use rotating-oscillating strokes while Sonicare models use high-velocity lateral vibrations. The four models range in price from $40 to $200, yet they're essentially equally effective.
So who makes the best electric toothbrush? We found the Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 5000 with SmartGuide Electric Toothbrush (Est. $98) to have top-notch results and useful features. The SmartSeries 5000 includes a built-in pressure sensor that stops bristle movement when it detects that you're brushing too hard, something not found in competitors' models. It also offers a separate visual display for the timer, whereas our runner-up pick, the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush (Est. $190), has no visual feedback but beeps and pauses between intervals. Neither method is inherently better, it really depends on personal preference. Both brushes also have five brushing modes, which utilize varying brush strokes and speeds for different purposes, like whitening or gum care.
Both models also include a charging base and travel case, though the SmartSeries 5000 lasts only 10 days without a charge, and the Sonicare DiamondClean can last up to three weeks. As a bonus the DiamondClean's travel case is also a USB travel charger. It features a sleek design -- which some Amazon reviewers say is worth the huge price difference alone -- and a stylish glass charging base that doubles as a cup. In comparison, the Philips Sonicare Flexcare+ (Est. $120), another popular model, doesn't offer any of these features. However, it has a UV sanitizer that the more-expensive DiamondClean doesn't have. Meanwhile, the inexpensive Oral-B Pulsonic (Est. $40) is a starter brush that includes only a second brush head and charging base. It doesn't have a travel cover or cap, which can cause the brush to inadvertently turn on when in transit -- in addition to being less than sanitary.
One area where the simpler brushes excel is usability. Good Housekeeping says the user guide for the Oral-B SmartSeries 5000 is confusing, and testers say it takes some trial and error to learn how to operate the toothbrush properly. The Philips Sonicare DiamondClean, on the other hand, is relatively easy to use, but the sleek design lacks raised buttons, making them difficult to find. The Oral-B Pulsonic gets top marks for ease of use and the Philips Sonicare Flexcare+ even includes a 14-day startup program that gradually increases pressure to help users get used to using an electric toothbrush.
While most of the electric toothbrushes we recommend are pretty durable, we found complaints about the Philips Sonicare Flexcare+ at Amazon.com. Reviewers say customer service is responsive, but replacing the brush is undoubtedly a hassle. Another distinguishing feature between models is the price of brush heads, which should be replaced every three months. The DiamondClean's brush heads cost $12.50 each, while Oral-B SmartSeries 5000 brush heads cost less than $7 each. Though this shouldn't be a deal-breaker, the cost of replacement heads could sway your decision on buying a really expensive brush.
This cost as well as the drastically lower up-front price, comparable effectiveness and relatively similar features, give the Oral-B SmartSeries 5000 a leg-up on the competition throughout the reviews, making it the best-reviewed electric toothbrush. For design aficionados, the DiamondClean might be worth the splurge, and the Oral-B Pulsonic is an excellent starter brush for those not ready to spend $100 on a toothbrush.