Should you upgrade?
Per the ADA's recommendations, the only necessary thing in toothbrushing is a basic toothbrush that you use properly. No electric toothbrush has the ADA seal right now, but powered electric toothbrushes have been shown to provide superior dental care to manual toothbrushing—they remove more plaque and reduce gingivitis at statistically significant rates. If you find yourself struggling to meet two minutes, you tend to brush unevenly, or you find manual brushing to be too much labor, upgrading from a manual toothbrush to an electric one that automates these elements would make sense.
One thing worth pointing out about electric toothbrushes is that they are not cheaper in the long run. Electric toothbrushes cost about 10 times as much as manual toothbrushes, and you have to replace the brush heads at the same frequency (every three months), each for about the same cost as a manual brush. What you get for the higher cost is less friction in achieving good brushing habits, and, according to research, a significant reduction in plaque and gingivitis, even if that reduction may come only from having a brush that encourages good habits, like a full two minutes of brushing for each session.
How we picked and tested
The full complement of brushes we tested. Photo: Casey Johnston
After sorting through dental care research, which is littered with (unusable) clinical studies sponsored by the companies that make the toothbrushes being tested, we've learned that all you really need out of an electric toothbrush is a two-minute timer to make sure you brush your teeth for the right amount of time. Manufacturers have blown up the high end with scientific-sounding "features" like cleaning modes and UV lights, but there's nothing to prove these work, let alone that they are necessary. All an electric toothbrush can really offer is automation of the brushing process by adding a timer and easing some of the physical labor, according to the professors and dentist we spoke to.
To begin the search, we trawled the manufacturer websites of the highest-rated brands and looked at the recommendations of Consumer Reports (subscription required to see product recommendations) and the Good Housekeeping Institute for toothbrush models as well as their replacement or substitution toothbrush heads, an important factor in choosing a best toothbrush.
We looked for, at minimum, brushes with a two-minute timer, but still wanted to test higher-end brushes to compare their usability with that of the simplest models. We eliminated brushes without rechargeable batteries because loose batteries are a hassle and a waste. We also eliminated models that were reviewed as loud or having either short battery life or a too-small range of compatible brush heads. If a brush was compatible with a wide range of brush heads, that was a small point in its favor.
Both Oral-B and Sonicare make extensive lines of brushes and don't exactly go to pains to make it clear what the difference is between all of them. See our full guide for a breakdown of differentiating features.
We then called in models for testing to see what it was like to hold the toothbrushes, charge them, use them, replace their heads, and have our brushing sessions timed and monitored. To stress-test them, we also dropped our picks onto a tile floor from chest height to test for durability and submerged them in water while they ran for a full two-minute brushing cycle to test for water resistance. We compared the brushes on all these usability points to arrive at our conclusion.
Photo: Casey Johnston
The Pro 1000 is among Oral-B's least expensive models, but comes with all the features recommended by most of our experts for the lowest price—a two-minute timer (with a nice-to-have quadrant alert), and a wide selection of compatible and affordable brush heads. The Pro 1000 has comfortable-feeling oscillating bristles, a simple one-button interface, and a battery that lasted 11½ days with twice-daily use in our tests. The body survived drop tests on the floor and into water. Best of all, you're not getting overcharged for features like digital monitors, travel cases, or inductive chargers—none of which will actually get your teeth any cleaner than the Pro 1000 can.
The one-button simplicity is a great feature—there are no useless cleaning modes. The Pro 1000's timer goes off every 30 seconds, alerting the user of the time by briefly pausing. After two minutes, the brush pulses three times to signal that a full cycle is up, but will continue brushing after if the user wants to keep brushing; it must always be turned off manually. This is nice for touching up areas of your mouth you may not have given enough attention to. On many more-expensive brushes, like the Philips Sonicare Diamondclean, pushing the button more than once activates different cleaning modes, forcing you to cycle through every option to get back to the simple default cleaning mode.
Using the right brush head for your teeth and gums matters, and we like that the Pro 1000 can take advantage of Oral-B's brush head line. The range is the widest of all toothbrush lines, making it easier to customize the brush for one user's preferences and recommendations from their dentist. Oral-B's brushes are also, on average, less expensive than replacement heads for other brushes.
The Philips Sonicare 2 Series. Photo: Casey Johnston
The Philips Sonicare 2 Series is currently one of the least expensive Sonicare brushes at around $50. This brush is quieter than our recommended Oral-B model, with a more subtle motion (though the vibrations can feel slightly more uncomfortable when the back of the brush knocks against your other teeth). The 2 Series also has twice the battery life of the Oral-B, lasting two weeks of use on a single charge instead of one (in our tests it lasted for 16 days of use), so it might be a better choice for travelers. The replacement brush heads for the 2 Series are slightly more expensive at $27 for three ($9 each); the Oral-B's replacement heads can be as cheap as $5 to $6 each, making the Oral-B's expenses a little lower in the long run.
Best online subscription toothbrush
Photo: Kit Dillon
The Goby Electric Toothbrush is only a few dollars more than our other picks and comes with the same no-frills features: a two-minute timer that shuts the brush off at the end, plus a quadrant timer to prompt you to switch areas every 30 seconds. Goby offers an "optional" brush head subscription service–however, it's worth keeping in mind that you can't get new brush heads anywhere else and there is only one kind available. The replacement brush heads for the Goby cost $6 with $3 shipping, about the same as the 2 Series replacements and a little more expensive than the Oral-B's heads.
This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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