How to Choose an Electric Toothbrush

Article By:
David Wise


Last Updated:
Tuesday
October 24, 2017

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Which electric toothbrush is the best for your pearly whites? Do you even need one, anyways? We took the highest rated and most popular electric toothbrushes out there and put them through extensive side by side testing to find out which one is really the top Electric Toothbrush.

Keep reading below to find out what we learned throughout our testing process, what features and functions matter (and which ones don't!), and if you actually need an electric toothbrush to keep your teeth happy and healthy.

Brushing your teeth in the morning and evening has been a part of your daily ritual for as long as you can remember…..at least we hope. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), early forms of teeth cleaning methods ("chew sticks") have existed for nearly 5000 years, with bristled toothbrushes emerging in the last 500 years and the more modern, nylon-bristled type invented in 1938. Brushing is an essential part of good oral hygiene, removing plaque, preventing tartar accumulations and gingivitis. Plaque is a sticky film left on the surface of your teeth by bacteria, which can eventually harden into Tartar if not removed. Tartar is much more difficult to remove than plaque, and, if formed above the gum line, can cause swelling or bleeding. This swelling or bleeding is referred to as Gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal, or gum disease that can lead to some more serious issues if left unchecked.

Why Get an Electric Toothbrush? Are They Really Better Than a Manual One?


One of the first things to think about when looking at which is the best electric toothbrush to buy is to determine whether or not you actually need an electric toothbrush. Some people may view using anything other than a simple, manual toothbrush as an unnecessary gadget and gimmick. To be completely honest, if you use a manual toothbrush properly, twice a day for two minutes, have healthy teeth according to your dentist, then is NOT really a reason that you need to buy an electric toothbrush. A manual toothbrush, when used properly, is plenty sufficient to maintain healthy teeth and gums and will be less expensive than an electric model.

Electric or powered toothbrushes have been on the market for over 50 years, and studies have shown that brushing with an electric toothbrush can be more effective at removing plaque when compared to a manual toothbrush. However, a manual toothbrush is more than sufficient for maintaining an acceptable level of oral hygiene when combined with good brushing habits. The ADA states that both manual and powered toothbrushes can effectively clean your teeth, and recommends that you use a toothbrush that is comfortable, easy to use, and most importantly, one that you will use for 2 minutes, twice a day. As of now, no electric toothbrush on the market has received the ADA seal of approval, but they have established a procedure for a powered toothbrush manufacturer to seek it. However, the ADA does state that children may be more likely to use a powered toothbrush, or that an individual that has difficulty using a manual toothbrush may get better results when using a powered toothbrush. This all ties back to an important point that we will make throughout this review:
Pick the toothbrush model and type that you will actually use on a twice-daily basis.

However, there are some studies that do show a statistically significant difference in favor of a powered toothbrush over a manual one. We are specifically referring to the 2014 Cochrane Group study which found that:

Powered toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing in the short and long term. The clinical importance of these findings remains unclear. Observation of methodological guidelines and greater standardisation[sic] of design would benefit both future trials and meta-analyses.

As the clinical importance of these studies are still being analyzed, and the need for greater standardization is present, we would not recommend buying an electric toothbrush solely on the claimed effects that they are more effective at cleaning your teeth than a manual toothbrush. If an increased cleaning performance is all that you are interested in, when you are already brushing for the recommended amount, then consulting your dentist and getting their input is probably the best course of action. Obviously, your dentist knows your teeth infinitely more than we do and can recommend the best course of action.

Just to be clear, we aren't dentists nor dental hygienists, and reliance should not be placed on this review for medical advice. Everyone's teeth are different, and you should always consult your dentist first and foremost when making decisions regarding your periodontal health.

Now it is time for a moment of thoughtful introspection, time to ask yourself one of the deep, soul-baring questions in life: Do you really brush for 2 whole minutes, 120 seconds, twice a day, every day? If the answer is "no", "I think so", "maybe", then an electric toothbrush will improve your periodontal health. In our experience, we found that an electric toothbrush was fantastic at improving our brushing habits. Having a 2-minute timer on the toothbrush, especially with the notifications every 30 seconds thoroughly reinforces when you have not brushed for the specified time, and helps ensure that you are evenly cleaning. For most of us here, this was motivation enough to take home an electric toothbrush. If you have now decided to purchase

Types of Electric Toothbrushes


Oscillation/Rotation


These powered toothbrushes use a mix of oscillation or rotating motions to clean teeth, and can be powered by either rechargeable or disposable batteries. These models operate at less than 20 Hz and do not produce an audible noise from vibration. To clarify, it is still possible to hear these toothbrushes, it is just that the actual movement of the brush head does not vibrate at frequencies audible to the human ear.

Sonic/Ultrasonic


These models strictly rely on vibrating brush heads in the 20 Hz to 20 KHz range, typically between 200-400 Hz, or 24,000-48,000 movements per minute. Ultrasonic toothbrushes operate at frequencies above 20 kHz, typically at 1.6 Mhz, or 192,000,000 movements per minute. These vibrate at such a high frequency that the vibrations produced are inaudible to the human ear.

As of now, there are no definitive studies that demonstrate that more movements per minute correlate to better cleaning performance, healthier gums, or any noticeably different effect on your teeth. The toothbrushes in this review were all selected based on how widespread they were, their popularity and existing information on them.

Which Type is the Best?



The short answer? There isn't one.

Based on our research and conversing with experts, there is still debate over the relationship between movements per minute and teeth cleaning, with no best type of electric toothbrush. While most manufacturers seem to convey through their marketing campaigns that their particular type has been proven to be the best, there is a distinct lack of definite information present. We would love to say a specific type is proven to be the best, but we simply can't at this time. Nevertheless dear reader — maintain hope! — keep reading to figure out why this doesn't really matter

Big Mouth? We Have One Too….


To help you select the best toothbrush for you, we looked at this problem a different way: Toothbrushes can't clean where they don't reach, and no toothbrush can clean if it isn't used. (sonic and ultrasonic toothbrushes do actually have an effect where they can disrupt plaque causing bacteria a short distance away from the actual bristles, due to some interesting fluid dynamics , but you still essentially have to maneuver the toothbrush to every section of your mouth. This led us to place a great deal of significance on not missing spots when brushing, as well as comfort when actually brushing.

This leads to our title question: How large is your mouth?

Throughout our testing, we found that the rotation-oscillation style brushes were the largest brush heads and the least comfortable, proportionately more for those with smaller mouths. We would recommend looking towards a side to side style brush if you have a mouth that is more petite.

The rotation-oscillation style brush head performed better in our cleaning test than the side to side motion heads.
The brush head for the Brio  utilizing a side to side cleaning motion.
 

For those with a history of sensitive gums, it is absolutely imperative that you select a model that either has an adjustable intensity or has a sensitive mode.

Our testers noted that the rotation-oscillation style brush heads tended to feel more aggressive, so a side to side style might be preferable for those with sensitive gums

For those with a large mouth, and resilient gums, the world is your oyster when it comes to selecting an electric toothbrush, and you are only constrained by budget, leading us to our next point.

Bourgeois or Bare-Bones?


Now that you have a general idea of the style toothbrush that would work best for you, it's time to assess your budget and what features you want. There are low and high-end models of both styles, with prices ranging from $30 to $250.

If you are looking to spend the bare minimum amount of money, and aren't looking for any extra features, then look for the lowest costing model of whatever style you previously selected. However, we would not buy any toothbrush that did NOT have the following features:
  • Made by an established company, ensuring replacement brush heads will be available
  • 2-minute timer, preferably with quadrant pacing
  • Some degree of customization, either a few cleaning modes or a variety of brush heads
  • Battery life of at least a week

Other than those crucial features, anything else that you are paying for is pretty much fluff. Things like USB travel cases, aesthetic appeal, fancy chargers are all nice, and they do add value to the product, but you are definitely paying for these additions, which might not be worth it to you.

The DiamondClean comes with a travel case that also charges the toothbrush.
The DiamondClean comes with a travel case that also charges the toothbrush.

We would also strongly recommend you consult with your dentist if you are looking at making this purchase to whiten your teeth. we would recommend against spending the extra money due to marketing claims of whiter teeth, as we found little to no evidence to back these claims up in our research.

Conclusion


As we mentioned before, any toothbrush, manual or electric, that makes it easier for you maintain good brushing habits is the right toothbrush for you. Hopefully, this guide will send you in the right direction and help you find the perfect product to keep those teeth happy and healthy. For an in-depth comparison of the pros and cons of specific models, check out our Electric Toothbrush Review

David Wise
About the Author
Born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, David Wise earned his B.S. in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering at MIT, where he participated on the marine robotics team and interactive STEAM education in the community. After graduation, David went on to work for a startup company building underwater autonomous robots used for seafloor mapping and ocean exploration. Unable to resist the mountains' calling, he returned to Tahoe in 2015 to join TechGearLab as a senior review editor. When he's not testing the latest and greatest tech gear, David enjoys skiing, mountain biking, baking amazing bread, building silly electric vehicles, and spending time with his amazing girlfriend and extremely large dog.

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