My Pick for Best Electric Toothbrush
The best electric toothbrush for most people is the Oral-B Vitality Floss Action Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush: it’s a quality, rechargeable toothbrush that removes plaque consistently using high quality bristles. The Vitality is widely available, much cheaper than its competitors, and it is the brush I use myself and will readily recommend to anyone who wants to switch to an electric toothbrush.
Do You Need an Electric Toothbrush?
Not everyone needs an electric toothbrush. Some people brush perfectly well with a manual toothbrush: they have the proper technique, reach all the hard-to-access spots, and use the correct motion and pressure to clean teeth without scratching the enamel.
The purpose of an electric toothbrush is to move in such a way that the human hand cannot—making it easier for you. Manual and electric toothbrushes can be equally effective—ONLY IF the proper technique is used. Problem is, proper technique is hard and an electric toothbrush can make it a lot easier.
But for anyone who struggles to get a good brush on a daily basis, as I estimate 80 percent of people do, electric toothbrushes can attack plaque without scratching enamel, providing a quality brushing experience.
An electric toothbrush can help:
- People who brush twice a day but still have areas in their teeth and gums dense with plaque
- People who do not have enough flexibility in their hands to reach the deep crevices of their mouth
- People struggle with staining (especially those of us who love our morning coffee)
- People who brush too hard and are at risk of scratching their enamel
A manual toothbrush can do everything an electric toothbrush can. Bust most of us stand to benefit from the assistance an electric toothbrush provides. Google “electric toothbrushes” and you’ll find dozens of options, from $20 to over $200. So how do you go about spending your money wisely and choosing an effective electric toothbrush? I’ll explain below.
What Makes a Quality Electric Toothbrush
Over the last 30 years I have seen thousands of patients interact with electric toothbrushes and I have personally seen the pros and cons of their use. In addition, I am constantly evaluating new toothbrushes.
When evaluating a good electric toothbrush, here is what to consider:
Plaque removal: The key job of a toothbrush is to remove plaque from teeth and gums. A quality toothbrush will remove plaque consistently and from all areas. By using a plaque score, which compares the levels of plaque a patient has between appointments, and the personal feel of the mouth after brushing, we can see how well the toothbrush attacks plaque. Americans, especially those eating a Western diet filled with refined carbohydrates, have thick plaque layers which sit on top of the biofilm, the protective layer referred to as “the skin of our teeth.” The biofilm is what nourishes the tooth, it keeps it moist and supplied with calcium. With too much plaque in the biofilm, the tooth won’t be able to get the nutrients it needs, which can lead to cavities.
Length of life: Most rechargeable toothbrushes should last two weeks before needing a new charge. Those with replaceable batteries should last a few weeks as well, long enough to take a week’s vacation without needing to replace the batteries.
Head shape and size: Head shape and size are important in accessing hard-to-reach areas, such as between the cheeks and molars.
Quality of bristles: Bristles make contact with the tooth; a bristle made of cheaper material will wear down quickly and become too sharp, scratching the enamel. But even a quality toothbrush needs the toothbrush head replaced often, at least every 3 months. Whenever possible, I recommend replacing the toothbrush head every month to ensure that it does not wear away the enamel.
Type of motion: For most people, daily brushing and plaque removal, a rotary oscillatory motion produces better results than sonic vibration (where the toothbrush head vibrates at high speeds).
Evaluating Electric Toothbrushes
In evaluating the different electric toothbrushes, I evaluated the following options:
- Oral-B Black Pro 1000 Power Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush Powered by Braun
- Philips Sonicare Essence Sonic Electric Rechargeable Toothbrush, White
- Philips Sonicare for Kids Bluetooth Connected Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush
- Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 Electronic Power Rechargeable Battery Electric Toothbrush with Bluetooth Connectivity Powered by Braun.
- Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean Rechargeable Toothbrush w/Deep Clean Mode with Adaptive Clean Brush Head, Black
- Oral-B Vitality Floss Action Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush
I consulted several independent studies which showed the electric toothbrushes are better options than manual brushing for most people, and studies that showed why the bristle is important in effective brushing.
Independent research confirms that the rotating oscillating toothbrushes, like the Oral-B, reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushing, without any injury to gums. However the vibrating brushes, like Sonicare, were found to be better at reducing gingival inflammation and reaching between the teeth and gums. For some people, I recommend using a combination, of the Oral-B in the morning and the Sonicare in the evenings. As we get older and our gums recede, the combination of using both toothbrushes can be effective.
The Advantage of the Oral-B Vitality
The Oral-B Vitality does as well or better at plaque removal compared to the other electric toothbrushes we examined. It brushes in a circular motion, which will attack plaque well, and uses a small, round head to clean hard-to-reach areas with high quality bristles that won’t scratch the enamel.
The rotation oscillation brush heads are extremely effective at removing plaque without over-brushing, which can damage the enamel. The smaller head is better for hard-to-reach areas, and I recommend to users to order the smallest head possible, and change the head as frequently as once per month.
Oral-B uses high-quality bristles on all of their brushes. They rely on “end-rounding,” a process which softens the sharp edge of a freshly cut bristle. This keeps the tips of the bristles soft enough to clear plaque, but not too hard as to damage the enamel. Most bristles are made of nylon, including those on the Vitality. The higher-quality bristle means that the brush will keep softer longer, without wearing down to its sharp edges.
The Vitality is rechargeable and comes with a charging station, so you won’t need to replace the batteries. Changing batteries inevitably means toothpaste will find its way into the electronics and mechanicals of the toothbrush.
The Disadvantage of the Oral-B Vitality
The Vitality may have a superior bristle and rotary motion, but like nearly every other toothbrush on the market, it has too big of a head (instant gratification for the first time user) and cannot get into tight locations, particularly in places close to the cheek. This is easily fixed by getting the extra-small replacement head and throwing away the head it comes with.
And while oscillatory motion is better for most mouths, those with a lot of gum recession or space between their teeth may be better served with a vibrating brush, like the Sonicare. This toothbrush uses a sonic frequency which in some cases can “disorganize” plaque without actually making contact with it. In some cases (particularly for people in their mid 40s or older who start seeing mild gum recession) I recommend using an oscillatory AND a sonic toothbrushe: an oscillatory motion one to reduce a thickened biofilm in the morning, and a vibrating one in the evening to loosen any food collected in those tiny spaces during the day.
Oral-B vs. Sonicare
Still unsure of the difference between the two brands? I can summarize the difference between the Oral-B and Sonicare in a few points:
- Size + shape of head. The narrow head of the Sonicare can be easier to get in hard-to-reach spots, such as along the jawline, the the round head of Oral-B is softer, which is better for protecting enamel.
- Motion of the head. As discussed earlier, the Oral-B moves in an oscillating rotary pattern while the Sonicare vibrates, and the former is better for plaque removal.
- Handles. The handles are of similar size, but of slightly smaller diameter on the Sonicare, so if someone has a bad grip, the heavier, wider handle of the Oral-B would be better.
There is a personal factor, of course. Not everyone likes the feel of the sonic vibrations.
Also, cost-wise, Oral-B tends to be cheaper. But overall, I’ve found Oral-B to have a slight edge over Sonicare for a better brushing experience.
Final Notes on Electric Toothbrushes
Manufacturers of electric toothbrushes design their devices for instant gratification. They know that customers judge a product after their first time using it, and evaluate the product by how their teeth feel after brushing. Most electric toothbrushes will instantly remove the pellicle, and there will be a smooth feeling on your teeth. While this is good, it’s not the only thing one should take into account when picking a toothbrush. Toothbrush abrasion is bad for the enamel and gums, and good habits such as brushing frequently and replacing the toothbrush head will be far better for your teeth than buying a top-of-the line electric toothbrush.
The best electric toothbrush is the one that you love to use, use consistently, and allows or promotes the proper technique. The toothbrush alone won’t make a difference if the head is not changed often and if the head is too big for hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. But the Oral-B Vitality is affordable, at $21 (on Amazon as of September [publication date] 2017), and does just as good of a job, if not better, than the higher-end models.
As brushing becomes a routine habit, one of simple muscle memory, we tend to multitask while brushing; i.e. checking our email on a smartphone or performing a chore outside of the bathroom. The automation of an electric toothbrush can help us in this case. However, the bells and whistles of an electric toothbrush such as bluetooth connectivity, or various settings such as “whitening” or “sensitive” ultimately distract from proper habits and technique. Ultimately an electric toothbrush should lead to better oral health with less effort and vibratory and oscillatory movement on your part.
Whether you have been using an electric toothbrush for years and need a replacement, or thinking of picking one up for the first time, The Oral B vitality is the one I currently recommend.
Are you currently using an electric toothbrush? Which do you prefer and why?
Dr. Mark Burhenne