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The best electric toothbrush

Oral-B, Philips and Goby made the cut.
Wirecutter, @wirecutter
August 17, 2018
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Kyle Fitzgerald/Wirecutter

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By Casey Johnston, Tracy Vence and Shannon Palus

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full electric toothbrush guide here.

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To find the best electric toothbrush, we put in almost 100 total hours of research, interviewing experts, evaluating every model on the market, and testing 12 toothbrushes ourselves in hundreds of trials at the bathroom sink. We found that the best toothbrush for most people is a simple model called the Oral-B Pro 1000. It has the fewest fancy features of the models we tested, but it does have the most important things experts recommend—a built-in two-minute timer and access to one of the most extensive and affordable lines of replaceable toothbrush heads available—for the lowest price. That, according to the experts we spoke to, is as much as an electric toothbrush can or should do for you. The extras available in electric toothbrushes that cost $150 more don't make them any more effective than the Pro 1000.

The Oral-B Pro 1000 brush comes with a minimal charging pedestal that simply requires dropping the brush onto a peg. Fully charged, it lasts for at least a week of twice-daily two-minute brushing sessions before needing a recharge, which is on a par with the other toothbrushes we tested in this price range and plenty for most people.

If you can't find the Oral-B Pro 1000, get the runner-up, the Philips Sonicare 2 Series. Like the Pro 1000, the 2 Series is not trumped up with unproven features and includes everything you need in an electric toothbrush. The 2 Series runs much more quietly, but unlike the Pro 1000, it comes to a full stop after two minutes of brushing (rather than restarting the cycle as the Pro 1000 does) and has a less diverse, more expensive range of brush heads, giving you fewer options for texture and shape.

If a subscription service will help you replace your brush heads regularly, Goby has all the features we look for in a brush: a 30-second quadrant timer that stops after two minutes and a rechargeable battery. The Goby has only one type of brush head available (rotating), so if you like to customize your brush this service may not be for you.

Why you should trust us

During the research process, we spoke with several experts on the subject of dentistry, including dental school faculty at leading research universities, a professional dentist, and a consumer advisor appointed by the American Dental Association (ADA), which confers a Seal of Acceptance on dental care products that seek the certification and meet a set of agreed-upon criteria.

In addition, we invested over 50 hours in researching, evaluating, and testing the best powered toothbrushes widely available to find the best one. (On a personal note, the last time I went to get my teeth cleaned, both the dentist and hygienist tripped over themselves to compliment the condition of my teeth, even though I hadn't gotten a cleaning in three years, drink coffee every day, and eat healthy sums of candy.)

Should you upgrade?

Per the ADA's recommendations, the only necessary thing in toothbrushing is a basic toothbrush that you use properly. As of September 2017, five models from Oral-B have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance (including our pick). But regardless of the manufacturer, 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, if you tend to brush unevenly, or if 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.

If you already have an electric toothbrush that performs these services, there's no need to consider upgrading. If you use a manual brush and don't struggle to maintain good habits, there's little reason to consider upgrading in that case, either.

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.

The first batch of brushes we tested. Photo: Casey Johnston

How we picked and tested

After sorting through the 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; nothing proves these other features work, let alone that they are necessary (see The features you don't need). 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.

"Average folks brush 46 seconds. With timers people will go to at least the two minutes," said Dr. Joan Gluch, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School. "Clinically, we see patients do better with powered toothbrushes." Dr. Mark Wolff, a professor at NYU Dental School and chair of the Cariology and Comprehensive Care department, agreed: "It helps people that don't brush well," he said. "If you need the guidance, invest in the guidance."

There are lots of types of brush heads, and they vary from brand to brand. Photo: Casey Johnston

To begin the search, we trawled the manufacturer websites of the highest-rated brands and looked at the recommendations of Consumer Reports 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.

Back in March 2010, Consumer Reports performed its own tests for plaque removal and concluded, "[T]he two priciest brushes removed 75 percent or more of plaque in our tests, on average." In the years following those tests, two of the top models have been discontinued and replaced by similar ones, and one has been recalled; as of May 2016, CR no longer tests toothbrushes at all. GHI's recommendations don't say much and do not explain whether expensive features are really necessary.

Aside from these older tests, we didn't find any independently conducted research that both draws the conclusion that one model or type is better than another and explains the process and results. And none of our experts differentiated between the plaque removal ability in any of the types or models of brushes available.

So we looked for, at minimum, brushes with a two-minute timer, but still wanted to test higher-end brushes to compare their usability against 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. Although the Oral-B 7000 costs more than the Oral-B 1000 because of added, unnecessary features, such as additional "cleaning modes," we chose to test it to see if the user experience was better. It wasn't.

We applied the same buying model to the Sonicare line and tried not to buy brushes that were differentiated only by their unnecessary features. We also bought one high-end brush, the DiamondClean, to assess if the cleaning experience was $120 better. It was not.

Once we understood the features of all the products, it was a matter of getting them in hand and seeing what it was like to hold them, 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 were running 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.

In our experience, all of these brushes, even the top-end ones, did the same thing—moved toothpaste around in your mouth. Toothbrushes that identify as "sonic" like Philips and Waterpik models tend to be quieter and have a vibration-like movement, and oscillating brushes are louder. But this is a distinction between different types of brushes made by different manufacturers, not expensive brushes versus cheap ones.