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 10 toothbrushes ourselves in hundreds of trials at the bathroom sink. We found that the best toothbrush for most people is a simple $50 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 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 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 ($50). 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.
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, which confers a seal of approval 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 on the market in order 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 3 years, drink coffee every day, and eat healthy sums of candy.)
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,1 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.2 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.
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 a 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 only come from having a brush that encourages good habits, like a full two minutes of brushing for each session.
“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, DDS, Ph.D., 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.”
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 both toothbrush models as well as their replacement or substitution toothbrush heads, an important factor in choosing a best toothbrush.
Consumer Reports performed their own tests for plaque removal and concluded “the two priciest brushes removed 75 percent or more of plaque in our tests, on average,” but since Consumer Reports’ last round of recommendations in March 2010, two of the top models have been discontinued and replaced by similar ones, and one has been recalled. GHI’s recommendations don’t say much and do not explain whether or not 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 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. Models we chose not to test include the Oral-B Professional Care 3000, which is more expensive than the 4000 model and can interface with an Oral-B app that displays a timer, and the Oral-B 5000, which has a higher price justified only by additional “cleaning modes,” which aren’t necessary. Though the Oral-B 7000 has the same problems of high cost justified by unnecessary features, we chose to test it to see if there was a better user experience. There was not.
We applied the same buying model to the Sonicare line and tried not to buy brushes that were only differentiated by their unnecessary features. We also bought one high-end brush, the DiamondClean, to assess whether 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, while oscillating brushes are louder. But this is a distinction between different types of brushes made by different manufacturers, not expensive brushes versus cheap ones.
The funny thing about electric toothbrushes is how similar a $70 model is to a $200 one. Once we get past the features mentioned above, there are precious few necessary value-adds to an expensive electric toothbrush: a travel case, a UV sanitizer (which is of negligible use), maybe a couple extra heads, a very slightly sleeker body, a longer-lasting battery. As for sonic cleaning, different cleaning modes, or pressure sensors, experts tell us they are not necessary.
First, a point of order about the word “sonic:” Per advertising from Sonicare that is now close to two decades old, some people take this to mean that sonic toothbrushes “knock off plaque” with “sound waves.” This is not an effect proven in any research.
However, sonic toothbrushes can produce a secondary effect described in a handful of studies involving fluid dynamics. Independent research does show that the fluid dynamics generated by a toothbrush moving at high frequency can “remove bacteria in vitro even at distances up to 4 mm beyond the tips of the bristles” (Stanford, 1997). The efficacy of this movement varied depending on the distance and time spent, and nothing will remove 100 percent of the bacteria/plaque all the time, but this is a significant, if secondary, effect generated by a “sonic” toothbrush.
There are no independent studies I could find that compare toothbrush models or brands, and all the ones tested for the fluid dynamics aspect are Sonicare brushes, which are all 31,000 movement/minute brushes. Other brands have toothbrushes that move faster, slower, and at roughly the same speed as this. While the fluid dynamics effect exists, it’s important to remember it’s secondary to actual bristles scrubbing your teeth and gums.
Another thing that is meant to differentiate the more expensive models is various “cleaning modes” that vibrate the brush at different patterns or frequencies. These brushes also tend to move at a higher frequency, to the tune of 30,000-40,000 movements per minute, as opposed to a lower-end brush’s 8,000-20,000 movements per minute.
But cleaning modes don’t matter, according to experts we spoke to and research we’ve seen. The only one that might help is “sensitive mode” for people who find the brush’s normal oscillations too jarring. “People with sensitive teeth may find that their teeth are less sensitive when the brush head moves slower or less pressure is applied,” said Matthew Messina, DDS, a consumer advisor for the ADA. The average person doesn’t need it, though. “As far as whitening goes, all toothbrushes help remove surface stains when used with a toothpaste because toothpastes contain mild abrasives and detergents for this purpose,” said Messina.
There isn’t even a proven difference in effectiveness between faster and slower brush movements in existing independent research. We only found one small, old, imperfect study that compared brushes with 2,100, 2,500, and 3,500 brushstrokes per minute and found that the middle frequency was the most effective at removing plaque (“at most 1.5 times better” than the other frequencies and yielded “about 50 percent fewer plaque sites” than the highest frequency). Respondents also said it was the most comfortable frequency. However, there were only 10 participants, they only brushed under supervision some of the time, and they used each toothbrush for only 3 days.
Some brushes come with a “pressure sensor” that is meant to alert the user when they are brushing too hard, something that dentists and experts agree is a bad thing. In theory, then, a pressure sensor can be good. However, in our testing, we found that the brushes with pressure sensors required the user to bear down very hard on their teeth before the alert would trigger. The amount of pressure a user can apply before the sensor discourages them suggests the available pressure sensors are more of a gimmick than an actual useful feature.
Many powered toothbrushes also include a quadrant timer that alerts you when 30 seconds have passed to encourage brushing evenness, and allow you to brush your teeth one “quadrant” at a time (lower-outer teeth, lower-inner, upper-outer, upper-inner). This element, while a nice option, isn’t strictly necessary unless you like that style of brushing or struggle with brushing evenness as noticed by your dentist. “The time spent in each quadrant is just an aid to help ensure that you brush long enough to remove plaque on every tooth at the gum line and chewing surfaces, assuming you’re brushing properly,” said Messina. “Plus, we are not aware of studies that show brushing longer in smaller areas has an added beneficial effect in removing plaque.”
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 11.5 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 manually turned off. This is nice for touching up on 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. Bruce Schechner, a New York-based general and cosmetic dentist, said that “everyone reacts differently” to different brush shapes and sizes, and those factors don’t matter “as long as you’re using one you feel comfortable with.” Wolff said that whether a brush includes elements like rubber flaps doesn’t matter, but brushes should be “soft to medium, at hardest.”
Oral-B’s brushes are also, on average, less expensive than replacement heads for other brushes. Dentists recommend getting a new toothbrush every three months, so these cost savings can add up over time. The Sonicare brush heads tend to be more expensive, while brands like the Waterpik and Dazzlepro have heads that are roughly the same price.
Higher-priced Oral-B models don’t have much more to offer than our pick. Investing $50 into the Pro 1000 gets you access to the same set of brush heads as buying the $150 Oral-B Black 7000 model (with the exception of a couple of less widely available models).
The Pro 1000 is rated to last for seven days of brushing sessions on one charge; in our real-world testing, it lasted for 11.5 days, which is average for a brush in this price range. Like the more expensive models we tested, the brush survived its drop test, fits in its charging cradle well, and can switch out brush heads easily.
The Pro 1000 was also quite comfortable to use. Oral-B models use rotation and pulsation, so its brushes don’t buzz as intensely when the brush’s head touches your other teeth. All Sonicares vibrate at the same (high) frequency and produce a more jarring sensation when the back of the brush collides with other teeth.
It is worth noting that our previous pick, named the Oral-B Pro 1000 (also known in some contexts as the Healthy Clean Precision 1000), is still available and is functionally identical to the current Pro 1000. At the time of our last review, the Healthy Clean Precision 1000 included one of the pressure sensors we mentioned earlier, but despite what the Amazon listing says, the model we tested did not include it. The Healthy Clean Precision, therefore, is essentially the same toothbrush; it just comes in a different color and with a different brush head. Online pricing can be fluid and seems to be influenced by the popularity of an item, so get the one you can find cheaper.
The Oral-B Pro 1000 has a limited two-year warranty that requires the buyer to retain the receipt and ship the product to an authorized service center if it needs fixing. This is typical for a product in this price range and category.
Overall, we found the oscillating format Oral-B toothbrushes to be louder and more sonically grating than the vibrating format of the Sonicare brushes we tested. Without a point of comparison, it’s possible our slight annoyance would go away as we got used to it.
The other major flaw of the Pro 1000 is that its head is a departure from the usual rotating/pulsating motion of most powered Oral-B brushes. The head it comes with has two moving parts: one that moves up and down vertically and a longer set of bristles at the top that flop back and forth. Compared to other toothbrushes, the motion was a little violent.
Fortunately, due to the aforementioned large range of brush heads, it’s possible to buy another type that feels better if you do not like the Pro 1000. Toothbrushes are meant to be replaced every three months anyway, so buying new brush heads is an inevitability; You just have to eat the cost of the two Pro heads that come with the brush.
Like most of the toothbrush models we tested, the battery life indicator on the Pro 1000 is vague: It lets you know when the battery is full (a continuous green light for five seconds after you remove it from the charging base) and when it is “low” (a red flashing light after turning the brush off). Oral-B does not specify how long it takes to get the brush to a full charge, but you can charge it every day without significantly affecting the battery’s capacity as long as you deplete it fully once every six months.
The most significant thing about a powered toothbrush that might change over the course of its lifetime is the battery life; over the years, rechargeable batteries tend to lose capacity. In the case of a toothbrush, this might mean it becomes less powerful or doesn’t last as long while traveling.
The Philips Sonicare 2 Series is 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.
A nice perk of all Sonicare brushes, including the 2 Series, is that the brush heads come with a tiny plastic hood you can snap off and on to guard against the coliform sprays flying around one’s bathroom if you store your toothbrush in open air. The cap is easy to lose, but it’s a nice touch.
The Sonicare 2 includes the two-minute timer and rechargeable battery. When we first tested this model, it did not have the 30-second pacing timer, but we recently confirmed with Philips that current Series 2 handles now come with a quadrant timer. We don’t think the pacing timer is absolutely necessary, but it’s nice that the line now has this feature.
The replacement brush heads for the 2 Series are slightly more expensive at $27 for three ($9 each), while the Oral-B’s replacement heads can be as cheap as $5-$6 each, making the Oral-B’s expenses a little lower in the long run. Per our testing, Sonicare brush heads are interchangeable, and all the Sonicare brushes we tested were able to accommodate each other’s heads. Sonicare does not make this explicit anywhere in its product materials. Most of Sonicare’s brush heads are oblong with soft bristles and lack options for additional structural elements, like rubber flaps or “polishing cups”, so you get fewer options than you do with Oral-B.
Like the Oral-B model, the 2 Series comes with a limited 2-year warranty that requires you to retain the receipt and ship the brush out if it needs service.
The only downside of our Oral-B pick is that it comes with a somewhat strange and overactive brush head with two moving parts. Fortunately, Oral-B offers a wide variety of brush heads that are generally more affordable than those from Sonicare. If you choose to buy the Pro 1000 brush, we suggest planning on buying a different set of brush heads in the very near term, even before you will naturally need a replacement (brush heads should be replaced every three months).
As we noted earlier in this guide, brush heads are a matter of personal preference of size, shape, and material. A number of third-party brands make replacement heads for Oral-B toothbrushes that tend to be much cheaper. There are some reports in user reviews that these aftermarket brushes sometimes do not fit or are of a lower quality than branded brushes, and the heads tend to be rated lower. Pay close attention when shopping for brush heads to what is “Oral-B” vs. “Oral-B compatible.”
Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected: The fanciest brush of the Sonicare line not only has far more cleaning settings than you need (three total, each with multiple speeds), it can connect to an app on your phone via Bluetooth that’s meant to track whether you’re adequately brushing every part of your mouth. The app shows an illustration of a mouth that starts out tinged yellow, and it gets whiter as you brush your teeth over the course of two minutes. The areas of your mouth that you fail to brush well enough will stay yellow, in theory. In reality, the location tracking wasn’t accurate enough to give us much useful information about this. The app divides the mouth into six areas, and it could reliably tell if we were neglecting either the front or backs of teeth, but not if I was missing one specific tooth. The app also expects you to brush the areas of your mouth in a specific order, and if I moved the brush to a part of my mouth where the app wasn’t expecting it to be, it didn’t pick up on that. When a brush like this costs about as much as an uninsured office visit to a dentist, I’m going to stick to getting brushing advice from a professional.
Quip, $35 for a single plastic brush without a replacement brush-head subscription: This model is a no-frills toothbrush with a single brush-head style and a simple timer that indicates each 30-second interval, shutting off at the two-minute mark. This is the only brush we tested that uses replaceable batteries instead of a built-in rechargeable battery. Quip has an unusual business model–the only way to get a new brush head is through the company’s website, which encourages a subscription that sends a replacement every three months. While you can purchase individual brush heads separately for $5 with free shipping, if you need a spare head you can’t just run to the store to get a new one. (And you’d better keep spare or rechargeable AAAs around.) The overall pricing structure is a bit confusing, and the store page defaults to the more expensive metal brushes, but toggling the interface gives you access to the slightly less expensive plastic brushes. Although the stylish design (of the more expensive metal model) and the quiet operation are both impressive, we found the vibrations to be weak. The Quip could be a nice option for someone who travels a lot and prefers the freedom of no charger, but it doesn’t have the brush-head options or wide availability of our main pick.
Philips Sonicare 3 Series, $60: This model feels and works very similar to the 2 Series, with a glossy plastic handle and minimal gripping ridges. Now that our runner-up comes with a quadrant timer, this toothbrush has no features that we think are worth spending extra on.
Waterpik Sensonic Professional Toothbrush (SR-3000), $85: A newer brand that has a bulky base with grippy rubber panels, a single button, and smaller range of heads than Oral-B or Philips, this brush’s higher price gets you one extra cleaning mode, two extra battery level indicator lights, and a travel case. It claims to give better results by moving the brush head faster than Sonicare models, but according to all the research we could find, faster doesn’t mean better.
Oral-B Healthy Clean ProWhite Precision 4000, $65: The battery lasts about three days longer than that of the Pro 1000, and the base is a bit chunkier than our pick’s. The brush has four cleaning modes (programmed to a separate button) and includes a pressure sensor, though to activate it you have to really cram the brush into your teeth, making it ineffective. The additional cleaning modes are extraneous, so there’s no reason to pay for them.
Dazzlepro Advanced Sonic, $55: The handle is a little large and unwieldy, a satiny plastic tapered toward the middle of the handle, and the the charging base is hefty, but this brush does a reasonable approximation of the Sonicare brushes’ motion. The brush has a separate “sensitive” cleaning mode. However, the company is lower-profile and the warranty only lasts 1 year (to Sonicare and Oral-B’s 2 years), so if you need support you may be left wanting.
Oral-B Black 7000, $150: This very expensive model comes with a “digital guide,” another (unnecessary) abstraction of a timer, and six brushing modes programmed to a separate power button. The base is very heavy, with large rubber panels in black and silver plastic, and weighted toward the bottom, with the same light-up pressure sensor as the 4000 model. The 7000 comes with a travel case and a charging stand that can hold four extra brush heads encased in a little plastic dome.
Philips Sonicare DiamondClean, $190: This toothbrush is pretty sleek with a matte plastic finish, and it has some real luxury features, like an inductive charging glass and travel case, but that’s a lot to spend for those items. The DiamondClean has five cleaning modes (four too many) that you must manually cycle through if you need to turn the brush off before reaching two minutes. It also has some of the most expensive brush heads, at around $11 apiece.
Conair Opti-Clean, $16: This was cheap for a rechargeable brush, but it did not survive a dunk in the water.
We also eliminated a few other models without testing:
Foreo Issa, $200: This silicone brush has a sleek and unusual look, but owner reviews on the Sephora site suggest that the all-silicone brush tips lack the ability to clean as thoroughly as plastic bristles. A second model that integrates bristles, the Issa Hybrid, is also available, but per our reasoning above, we don’t need to test this model to know that there is nothing aside from the unusual look to justify the Issa’s $200 price tag.
CVS Rechargeable Sonic, $60 (discontinued): Not too expensive as brushes go, but requires users to press the power button multiple times to cycle through the superfluous brushing modes to turn the brush off.
Cybersonic 3 Complete Sonic, $60 and Cybersonic Classic, $50: Cybersonic models came up in our product searches, but we decided not to test because they have a very limited selection of brush-head options (with an optional and dubious-looking “free” replacement program that winds up costing $8 in shipping per brush head).
ToiletTree Rechargeable, $40: This brush seems like a good value prospect, as it comes with a free secondary travel toothbrush, but reviews reported that it is very loud and stops working after a short period of time.
The affordable Oral-B Pro 1000 makes it easy to take good care of your teeth. You can pay more for additional features, but according to the experts, there’s no need to—this simple, entry-level brush cleans your teeth as well as any of the many more expensive brushes.
Originally published: May 5, 2015