The Quest for the Best Electric Toothbrush

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Five hundred years ago, someone attached a bunch of hog hairs to a stick and rubbed it against his teeth. Five (or so) decades ago, someone put a battery in a bristle-tipped cylinder and rubbed it against his teeth.

Now, our toothbrushes have timers, Bluetooth chips, companion apps, and replacement heads delivered straight to your home. I explored these evolved teeth cleaners by treating my mouth to the finest in oscillating and vibrating dental care.

Which one is the best? Well the answer isn’t so simple, because what’s best for you “will depend on the person,” said Dr. Matthew Messina, a dentist and consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.

“The human still has to guide the head of the toothbrush and the bristles across all the surfaces of the teeth,” he explained. “We don’t get a pass on how to move that around. A mechanical [electric]toothbrush can be effective—as long as you use it.”

But to get started, these four brushes represent some of the very best dental hardware you can buy.

Price: $288

The DiamondClean Smart is way up at the tippy top of Sonicare’s electric toothbrush lineup. The toothbrush works with an app to tell you where to brush more and less and where you’re applying too much pressure. But that’s mostly a distraction, and the brush gives me about the same actual toothbrushing experience as the basic model.

An intensely shaking head—vibrating at middle C—vibrates against the teeth and gums when moved around my mouth. As with many other models, a 30-second timer alerts me when it’s time to move quadrants.

If you’re willing to spring for it, the DiamondClean is plenty nice. It looks good, charges in a nondescript glass (with a battery that’ll last three weeks, the company says), and has five brushing modes. It has two buttons, an improvement over the regular DiamondClean, whose single button is both an on/off switch and the way to change modes, but the modes themselves aren’t terribly necessary, Messina said.

“The individual settings—I don’t know if that’s that important,” he said. “As long as you’re paying attention to what you’re doing.”

So if you don’t need a ton of modes or a phone to tell you how to brush, you’d do well with a Sonicare 2 Series ($40) or 3 Series ($60), both of which have two-minute timers for equal brushing. Though their batteries are NiMH, not lithium-ion, like the DiamondClean’s, they’ll still last two weeks.

Price: $157

Like the Sonicare, Oral-B’s Genius Pro connects to an app to help you brush all your teeth evenly. But the toothbrushes are distinct, primarily because the Oral-B has an oscillating, rather than vibrating, head. The company says that that the brush has “rotating pulsating technology,” but that just means a brush spinning really fast.

The main problem with the brush’s design is there’s no brush head cover, likely a dealbreaker for the most germaphobic among us. Still, as far as problems go, it’s a fairly small one.

But the bigger problem comes on digital side of things. Unlike the Sonicare app, Oral-B’s app requires you to hold the phone directly in front of your face, like a mirror. The toothbrush comes with a mirror-mounted holder, but it’s an eyesore. Luckily the app—much like the Sonicare—is mostly superfluous.

Once you you just ignore the app, things get better. The modes are different enough, though I can’t imagine myself using anything other than the standard cleaning mode. And like many electric toothbrush models, it feels overcomplicated with too many options. “It’s not like we’re trying to use this as a floor sander,” Messina says.

As with the Sonicare, really all you need is one speed (maybe two) and a timer that’s subdivided to keep your brushing your entire mouth evenly. If you want name-brand reassurance, and you’re wedded to Oral-B’s lineup of brush heads, the Oral-B Pro 3000 is a good option. It has, like Sonicare’s lower end models, a lesser battery, but with three cleaning modes, a subdivided timer, and a pressure sensor that lights up when you’re brushing too hard—a nice bonus at its price point ($60)—that’s not much to scoff at.

Price: $60 (plus $6 per brush head every three months)

Goby founder Benjamin Goldberg created this toothbrush with hopes of bringing electric brushing to the masses. He delivers on the promise. The Goby is cheaper than the Oral-B brushes but it seems to work just as well, with its oscillating brush head spinning comfortably against teeth and gums.

Plus, it’s a good-looking toothbrush. The Goby comes in five different colors, has a satisfyingly minimalist single-button, and comes with a charging base/stand that separates from its micro-USB base. Like the lower-end Sonicare and Oral-B models, its battery is supposed to last two weeks per full charge.

“Our new charging system allows consumers to have the benefit of an electric toothbrush, Goldberg says, “without the hassle of unsightly charging cords snaking through the bathroom.”

You can also sign-up for a brush head subscription service that will deliver a new bristles to your home every three months—a dentist’s recommended lifespan for a brush head.

If you prefer vibrating, rather than oscillating, bristles, and you need a subscription to keep you from using the same brush head for months (if not years) on end, then the Brio Smartclean Sonic toothbrush might be right for you. It has a whopping six-week battery life, and you can sign up for its $10 brush heads to be delivered every two, three, or six months—a nice choice to have.

Price: $45 (plus $5 per brush head every three months)

As with the Goby, there is only one place to buy Quip brush heads—directly from Quip (also available in a subscription plan) and it comes with a timer. But the similarities mostly end there.

“The idea for quip was to create a product that had the simplicity and accessibility of the much loved manual toothbrush,” says Quip CEO Simon Enever, “with the cherry-picked guiding features that dentists recommend form an electric.”

The result is a toothbrush powered by regular batteries (so no charger needed), which makes the Quip a good option as your teeth-friendly travel companion. It keeps all the benefits of an electric toothbrush but eliminates a lot of the bulk.

But the Quip’s biggest problem is that it’s pretty weak. Compared the other models, I could barely feel the vibrations. Although the brush head itself was comfortable—with soft, comfortable bristles—it might as well have been a regular, old-fashioned brush. But I wanted to like the Quip because it’s a good-looking brush. In fact, the brush almost looks too good—a gadget more deserving than the germ-ridden confines of my mouth.Unfortunately, looks go only so far, so the Quip will stay conveniently packed in my travel bag.

If it’s a rechargeable battery you’re after for your travel needs, pretty much any rechargeable brush with a long battery life will do, but those with carrying cases—available mostly for higher end models—are ideal. The Sonicare Diamondclean (both smart and dumb versions) and Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 carrying cases also double as induction chargers.

Price: $5 for six

“You can do a very effective job with a manual toothbrush,” Messina says.

Like with electric toothbrushes, it’s crucial to brush for two minutes, according to the ADA. And also like with electric toothbrushes, it’s important for manual ones to have soft bristles and brush heads that are properly sized for your mouth.

While all of the brushes had great strengths, they also all had one shareable flaw—filth. It’s hard to keep something clean that’s used for cleaning, especially when that cleaning involves water. All the brushes I tried, no matter the color, grew dirty over time, particularly the Sonicare, which had an impressive build-up of mildew between the brush head and handle. My dream toothbrush is coated in a nontoxic version of Rustoleum’s Neverwet, the magically hydrophobic coating that makes water jump off surfaces.

But until then, these will do.

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