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The Best Electric Toothbrushes, According to Dentists

Photo: Courtesy NBC

With ads for Quip lining subway cars and new direct-to-consumer brands like Burst and Goby popping up like cavities after Halloween, there seem to be more options for getting a powerful at-home teeth cleaning than ever before. For the most part, though, the dentists we spoke with still recommend classics, like Philips Sonicare and Oral-B, because of the years of scientific research behind them. That’s not to say the shiny new toothbrush you bought from an Instagram ad won’t clean your teeth. In fact, dentist Jonathan Levine pointed out that in one independent study, all types of powered toothbrushes outperformed manual ones in reducing plaque and gingivitis. Plus, dentist Marc Schlenoff, vice-president of clinical development at the new dental office Tend, recommends electric toothbrushes because they “greatly reduce and can even eliminate the need for manual dexterity and limit the amount of force put onto the teeth and gums, therefore reducing the risk of gum recession and wear-away of tooth structure.”

The most important thing to remember is that any toothbrush you buy should feature the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. “The seal of acceptance says that a product does what it says and says what it does and is safe and effective when used as directed,” says dentist and ADA consumer adviser Matt Messina. After that, you shouldn’t really stress — at least not when it comes to picking among dentist-approved electric options. Sonya Krasilnikov, a dentist and co-founder of Dental House, says, “Choosing between Sonicare and Oral-B is like picking between a Mercedes and BMW. It’s mostly personal preference. Their mechanism is different, but both achieve great results.” There are subtle differences, though, which Krasilnikov and seven other dentists break down in their picks for the best electric models on the market right now, below.

Best rotating, oscillating electric toothbrushes

Identifiable by their small, round brush heads, Oral-B toothbrushes both rotate and vibrate (or oscillate). These brushes can rotate 44,000 times per minute — which Levine says causes “a lot of disruption of plaque” — and one study shows that rotating and oscillating toothbrushes have a small edge over comparable ones that simply oscillate. Orthodontist Janet Stoess-Allen, who is also a fan of this Oral-B brush, says that because teeth are curved, “rotating heads are more effective in getting to all sides of them.”

This basic, rechargeable model offers the three main features dentists recommend: soft bristles, a pressure sensor, and a timer. “Hard-bristled toothbrushes are wonderful if you’re going to clean the grout from your bathroom tile, but they’re not for use in the mouth,” says Messina, who explains that harder bristles can damage gums and enamel. Brushing too hard can do the same, which is why dentist Inna Chern likes brushes with pressure sensors that beep or stop moving when you’re being too aggressive to “eliminate the possibility of overzealous brushing.” Finally, the two-minute timer, which vibrates every 30 seconds when it’s time to move to the next quadrant of your mouth, ensures you brush for enough time.

Oral-B’s version of a tricked-out toothbrush has all the standard features plus six cleaning modes (including one for your tongue), a light-up pressure sensor, and even Bluetooth connectivity, so you can track your brushing habits on your phone. Cosmetic dentist Lana Rozenberg likes that Oral-B brushes generally “have more features” and are “more advanced than the others.”

Because of their small brush heads, Chern says Oral-B brushes are a good pick “if your mouth is on the smaller side or you have gagging issues.” A smaller brush head makes it easier for some people to reach their molars, too, she explains. If you have braces or other orthodontics, you also might prefer Oral-B, according to Stoess-Allen, who recommends the brand to her patients because it makes a brush head designed to navigate wires and bands in the mouth.

Like the dentists above, Pia Lieb, founder of Cosmetic Dentistry Center NYC, prefers Oral-B electric toothbrushes because they combine vibration and rotation to “remove particles that you can’t even see with the naked eye.” She likes that the Genius Pro 8000, one of the brand’s most advanced models, features a pressure sensor that turns red if you’re brushing too hard and comes with a phone holder so you can follow guidance on the app while you brush. “Having the app really does work because it makes you self-conscious of really brushing for two full minutes,” says Lieb, who says that most people don’t come close to the recommended time on their own.

Best oscillating sonic electric toothbrushes

While they don’t rotate, Sonicare toothbrushes are known for their large, flat brush heads and oscillating motion. Levine says they “use more of an ultrasonic vibrational energy to disrupt the plaque.” Chern likes that “the sonic power helps to shake off plaque and tartar, aiding in the removal of these gingivitis-causing, bacteria-holding compounds.” Even without a rotating head, this Sonicare brush will definitely give you a good cleaning. Krasilnikov says, “While the bristles only sweep back and forth, the brush sends out vibrations that are designed to break up particles and debris and allow toothpaste and fluids to access hard-to-reach places. Some patients love the feeling of the vibrations, but others think they’re too ticklish.” This model also features a timer, a pressure sensor, and dentist-recommended soft bristles.

If you know you like the feel of a Sonicare, this high-end version offers the same deep clean with more bells and whistles, like five different brushing modes to choose from, including “sensitive” and “gum care.” Plus it’s a longtime Strategist favorite: Former senior editor Simone Kitchens says, “It’s the closest approximation to that thorough, just-back-from-the-dentist squeaky clean,” and writer Stephen Haskell says, “brushing itself feels like a mouth massage, gentle while still providing adequate pressure.” According to dentists, you’re not necessarily getting a better cleaning experience with a more expensive brush, but Chern says pricier models offer more “creature comforts,” like the little glass the Diamond Clean sits in to charge. Plus, at higher price points, “the internal mechanicals are better made and will hold up over time,” adds Messina.

Orthodontist Heather Kunen, co-founder of Manhattan’s Beam Street dental office, tells us she “swears by” this midrange Sonicare. It’s got five brushing modes and a two-minute timer like the DiamondClean Smart but no app or pressure sensor. “The toothbrush bristles are soft,” she says, “and the brush come with a variety of features that are useful for optimal cleaning.” While Kunen agrees with other dentists that small, round brush heads allow for a more thorough cleaning, she says any toothbrush’s efficacy depends on user technique, and brushers who are less meticulous about moving a small brush around every corner of each tooth will benefit from the Sonicare’s broader head.

It doesn’t have the name recognition of some of the bigger brands, but the Pro-Sys sonic brush is marketed to dentists and many sell it directly to patients in their offices, Levine says. “It’s a very good brush and half the price of the expensive ones,” he says. “It has very, very soft bristles and a very nice ovaline head, so it does a good job of getting way back into the mouth.”

Best drugstore electric toothbrush

If you want to try out an electric toothbrush without dropping a lot of cash — or want one to travel with that you won’t mind losing — this is one of the few ADA-approved models you’ll find in the drugstore. It has no timer or pressure sensor, but Levine says it’s “a good starting point, good for travel, and better than manual.” This brush oscillates and rotates, so you can get a feel for both styles. If, after trying it, you find you love the electric feel, it might be worth it in the long run to buy a higher-quality model. Even though you can replace the Arm & Hammer’s brush heads and batteries, it and other low-cost brushes tend to be “disposable in the sense that you’ve got plastic mechanical parts … and those will wear out,” Messina says.

Best start-up electric toothbrush

Photo: Courtesy of the retailer

Although Quip is the first (and so far only) direct-to-consumer toothbrush to earn ADA acceptance, the sleek, heavily marketed brush is by far the most debated among dentists. Levine acknowledges that the very millennial-friendly brush has “raised awareness of the importance of oral health,” especially among young people, but says there has been no testing that demonstrates “disruption of plaque, plaque control, [or] improvement of any type of gingival inflammation.” Still, Chern calls it “a great brush to test the waters with,” and she loves Quip’s brush-head-refill subscription program. Stoess-Allen, who hasn’t used one herself, says as long as it has the ADA seal and soft bristles, this brush should be effective.

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The Best Electric Toothbrushes, According to Dentists