Choosing an Electric Toothbrush
Tooth brushing is an essential part of a daily hygiene routine, not to mention overall well-being. Dentists widely agree that electric toothbrushes are superior to manual brushes when it comes to maintaining dental health: They get at hard-to-reach areas, massage gums, attack plaque, and clean effectively (assuming proper technique). They sell at prices ranging from as little as $5 to nearly $200. Cheapism.com culled the best electric toothbrushes under $50 based on scores of expert and user reviews. Each of our picks provides a thorough and comfortable cleaning experience, and many include a few extras, such as a timer and different brushing modes.
Electric Toothbrush Brands.Oral-B absolutely dominates the market, starting with inexpensive electric toothbrushes and climbing ever higher on the price scale. Our favorite is the Oral-B Pro 1000 (starting at $40), followed by the Vitality Floss Action (starting at $20).
Philips Sonicare is another big name in this category. The company focuses mostly on pricier models but also produces two that rank among the best cheap electric toothbrushes: the Philips Sonicare 2 Series (starting at $40) and the Philips Sonicare for Kids (starting at $42). An even less expensive and still solid option is the Philips Sonicare Essence (starting at $25).
Popular toothpaste brands such as Colgate and Arm & Hammer also sell cheap electric toothbrushes, as does a company called Pursonic.
Pricey vs. Cheap Electric Toothbrushes.For shoppers interested in giving their teeth the luxury treatment, there are a surprising number of electric toothbrushes tagged well above $100. These models often come with features such as Bluetooth and accompanying apps, battery level indicators, travel cases, and cool designs or finishes. Cheap electric toothbrushes only sometimes feature such goodies. Among the models we researched in our price range, the Oral-B Pro 1000 includes a pressure sensor that sends an alert when brushing too hard. And the Philips Sonicare for Kids includes Bluetooth and app support (perhaps it will make brushing more appealing!).
A vast majority of electric toothbrushes, including almost all our budget picks, are rechargeable and come with a charging station that plugs into a regular outlet. But the very cheapest electric toothbrushes are powered by disposable batteries. These basic models cost only slightly more than manual toothbrushes. The Oral-B 3D White Powered Toothbrush (starting at $6) is a good example; it runs on a single AA battery. The Colgate 360 Optic White Powered Toothbrush (starting at $6) takes two AAA batteries, but reviews suggest they don't last long -- one thing that keeps this model from earning our recommendation.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Electric Toothbrush Reviews: What We Considered
Even though electric toothbrushes are widely recommended by professionals, most online reviews are posted by consumers, on manufacturer sites and retail sites including Amazon, QVC, Overstock, Walmart, RiteAid, Best Buy, Walgreens, and Target. In making our picks, we also consulted reviews by dental bloggers and product review sites such as TopTenReviews, The Sweethome, and TechGearLab, which conduct product testing.
Although some people do wonder how to use an electric toothbrush, most models aren't very complicated, and ease of use is rarely a concern. Battery life, however, is a big deal for many shoppers, particularly those who travel often and don't want to lug around yet another charger. Users want the battery to hold a charge for more than a few days. We also assessed the cost of replacement heads, which should be switched out every three months or so, and noted other helpful features.
General Performance.Brushing action varies on electric toothbrushes. Some models oscillate, some pulsate, and some use sonic wave technology. Some dentists say the latter may be slightly more effective in killing bacteria below the gum line and forestalling plaque buildup. However, we didn't find any indication in reviews that one type of motion is better than the other. Oscillating, sonic, and dual cleaning all garner strong support.
For the most part, people who buy budget electric toothbrushes are happy with their performance, saying they do indeed clean much better than manual brushing and produce results that dentists notice. The brushing power of some electric toothbrushes can be pretty intense, though. We read complaints from reviewers about the "rough" experience they had using even the best electric toothbrushes we reviewed, such as the Oral-B 1000. Some users of the battery-powered Colgate 360 Optic White Powered Toothbrush consider it uncomfortable, according to reviews on Amazon.
In situations like this, experts recommend opting for a model with a choice of intensity settings. Even people with sensitive teeth or gums should be able to find one that's forgiving. The relatively pricey Oral-B Pro 5000 (starting at $100) offers five brushing modes.
Battery Life.Battery life is one of the top factors that buyers consider when shopping for an electric toothbrush. For rechargeable brushes, the typical amount of time from full charge to empty is about two weeks. But battery life varies by brand and usage frequency.
Unfortunately, some electric toothbrushes we researched run on batteries that may drain a little too quickly. The Oral-B Vitality Floss Action lasts only about five days between charges, reviewers write, and the Oral-B Pro 1000 doesn't do much better, lasting about a week. The Brio SmartClean (starting at $68) sits outside the budget price range but easily surpasses our picks with very impressive battery life that maxes out at six weeks.
Ease of Use.Electric toothbrushes are pretty easy to use, for the most part. They usually don't weigh very much, often less than 5 ounces, although toothbrushes with larger batteries may weigh almost a full pound. Cheap models usually have only one brush mode, so it's simply a matter of pressing the power button and brushing away. Brushes with additional brushing modes add a bit more complexity but still are user-friendly.
Models that incorporate Bluetooth and apps can present a challenge. In some reviews of the Philips Sonicare for Kids, buyers say they couldn't sync the brush to an older tablet or smartphone, for example.
Replacement Heads.Just as a manual toothbrush should be replaced every few months, so too the brush head on an electric toothbrush. In some cases the price of this replacement part ratchets up the long-term cost. Prices vary by brand and style of brush head (some brushes, such as the Oral-B models on our list, support several types of heads). Some models may accommodate cheaper off-brand heads. It's a good idea to factor the price of replacement heads into the total cost of ownership when choosing which electric toothbrush to buy. Also make sure that replacement heads are readily available.
Even for the same brush head, costs can vary widely depending where you buy and in what quantity. But for the sake of comparison, we checked the prices of replacement brush heads from the makers of the toothbrushes on our list. Colgate brush heads go for about $3.50 each in a two-pack. Oral-B sells several kinds of brush heads at different prices, but its popular Floss Action replacement brush head comes in an eight-pack for $35 ($4.40 each). Brio sells two-packs for about $12 ($6 each). Philips Sonicare brush heads are the priciest: Its Simply Clean replacement heads sell for about $7.50 each in a five-pack costing $38.
Most cheap electric toothbrushes come with one brush head to start, but the Pursonic S500 (starting at $35) includes 12 as part of the initial package. Pursonic's replacement heads are also the cheapest of any brand we researched -- $25 for an eight-pack, or about $3 apiece. A user who follows the recommendation to change out the brush every three months won't even need to buy replacements for three years -- although reviews suggest the brush might quit holding a charge before then.