While the jury may be out on the efficacy of manual versus electric toothbrushes for adults, experts say that an electric toothbrush may be a good choice for a child. Not that power toothbrushes necessarily clean teeth any better than a manual toothbrush, but they may take some of the hassle out of trying to get your child to brush. Electric toothbrushes for children usually have bright, attractive colors or cartoon designs, as well as chimes or music to encourage them to brush for the recommended time frame. And, if your child is willing to brush more frequently or longer, the result will be better dental hygiene -- as well as, hopefully, fewer hassles getting ready for school or bed.
However, electric toothbrushes, in general, are not designed for very young toddlers -- age three is the minimum we saw and children that age may still require close parental supervision. The one big complaint we saw about electric toothbrushes for children is from parents who said that a brush recommended for ages 3 or 4 was too hard for their 2-year-old to use. In that case, it's probably best to wait until your child falls into the proper age group rather than to give up on electric toothbrushes altogether.
Although electric toothbrushes and kids may seem to be a natural pairing, in reality there are very few choices. While we have a few reservations about it, for performance as a toothbrush, the obvious choice is the Philips Sonicare for Kids (Est. $50). It is specifically designed for kids, and many parents say it really works to get their children excited about brushing their teeth. The Sonicare for Kids comes with 10 interchangeable stickers to change up the look of the toothbrush, and it plays a tone whenever it's time to move to a different area of the mouth. As with the adult versions, there is a built-in 2-minute timer with 30-second intervals. There are two brushing modes as well, a gentler setting for children ages 4 and up and a more powerful mode for ages 7 and up. It's not recommended for children younger than 4. The brush heads are shaped to fit comfortably in children's' mouths, and they have soft bristles. Particularly popular is the easy-start function that gradually increases brushing time and intensity over 90 days for new users.
The issue with this toothbrush right now is with its latest feature: Bluetooth connectivity that enables your children to access an animated app to "get them excited" about brushing. While it's a concept that many parents are willing to try, the reality ends up being less exciting, they note. First of all, the app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, is finicky to sync, especially on the Android platform. You also have to have your device, such as your phone or table, in the bathroom with the child to watch the animations, which is maybe not the best environment for an expensive electronic device. We read a number of comments -- even from those who otherwise love the toothbrush -- that using the app becomes a bit of a chore and that their child tires of it quickly anyway.
The previous version of this toothbrush, the Philips Sonicare for Kids HX6311/07 (Est. $50) gets much better reviews overall, because its ratings are not pulled down by complaints about the app. It's no longer on the Philips website, but is still available from some Marketplace sellers at Amazon.com, so we would recommend it over the connected version, but with the caveat that its availability may be limited. Other than the app, though, these are the same electric toothbrushes and will be top performers where it counts: in cleaning your child's teeth.
Oral-B also offers battery-operated electric toothbrushes for kids, the Oral-B Pro Health Stages Power Toothbrush (Est. $5), which comes in a range of character themes, including Disney Princesses, Star Wars, and others. The Pro Health Stages is a favorite at retail review sites where many parents say the characters on the brushes have turned brushing time from tears and tantrums to enthusiastic participation. The Oral-B Pro Health is recommended for ages 3 and up; many parents say they use these power toothbrushes to brush children's teeth who are on the lower end of that age range and it makes quicker work of what can be a chore.
There is one big downside to the Oral-B Pro Health toothbrushes, though. The brush heads aren't replaceable. That means when it dies, or the brush head needs to be replaced, you have to just toss it and buy a new one, something that makes those with environmental concerns think twice.