You might be wondering if now’s the time to invest in an electric toothbrush. After all, if there’s one personal care product that’s a non-negotiable, it’s a toothbrush. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing teeth twice a day, for two minutes each time, to remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line. This helps avoid dental decay and keep your mouth healthy.
The ADA also recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months—or more often if the bristles are visibly matted or frayed. Of course, regular, manual toothbrushes work well when you practice proper brushing technique, but some people prefer using an electric toothbrush. In fact, the ADA says electric toothbrushes may be easier to use for people who have dexterity problems—like the elderly, people with disabilities, or children—or those who have dental appliances, like braces.
In addition, when used properly, an electric toothbrush can make you feel like you were just at your dental office and had a professional teeth cleaning, says Sean Thompson, D.D.S., of Thompson Dental in Laguna Niguel, California. (A 2014 Cochrane Library review of 51 randomized controlled studies did find that electric toothbrushes were slightly better at removing plaque and bacteria than manual toothbrushes, although the authors noted that the quality of the studies included were “moderate”).
So if you’re thinking of replacing your regular, manual toothbrush with an electric one, you’ve come to the right place. However, the sheer amount of choice can make shopping for a new brush overwhelming. Take head movement types, for instance—you’ve got side-to-side, counter oscillation, rotation oscillation, circular, and ultrasonic. To help you narrow it down, we found out what criteria experts think you should look for by talking to the people who know teeth better than anybody—dentists. Based on their feedback, here’s what you should look for when shopping for an electric toothbrush. (We also use these criteria when evaluating electric toothbrushes for our product reviews).
Electric Toothbrush Evaluation Criteria
First of all, don’t go for an electric toothbrush that’s too small or large for your mouth. Generally, larger toothbrushes make it hard to effectively clean the hard-to-reach areas like behind your lower front teeth and upper back teeth, says Boca Raton cosmetic and restorative dentist Geoffrey Morris, D.M.D. He advises going for a toothbrush with either a round head or head smaller than 0.5 inch by 1 inch. Plus, the handle should be long enough that you can comfortably hold it in your hand.
When a toothbrush is labeled “extra soft,” “soft,” “medium,” or “hard,” this relates to bristle stiffness. The ADA advises going for a brush with soft bristles. “Harder bristles can damage and remove enamel and root surfaces,” Morris explains.
Chris Strandburg, D.D.S., dentist and Waterpik spokesperson, avoids any electric toothbrush that doesn’t have oscillating motion. “This means the bristles travel back and forth a certain distance to disrupt plaque and debris,” he explains. Many electric toothbrushes will “vibrate” in your hand, but Strandburg says that provides no additional cleaning benefit at the bristles.
It’s a big plus if your electric toothbrush has various settings to help you personalize your brush, the experts say.
Some important settings include a self-timer, a pressure sensor, and a range of cleaning modes, says Lewis Chen, D.D.S, F.I.C.O.I., F.I.A.D.F.E. and co-founder and managing partner of Beam Street. “This removes a lot of the guesswork in your cleaning, which helps you clean with confidence,” he says.
“Most patients I see who have bought and rarely used their electric toothbrush find the vibrations uncomfortable or ticklish,” Morris reveals. An electric toothbrush with a setting to control the sensitivity level is the answer to this problem.
Thompson advises against “promotional type brushes” that don’t bear the ADA Seal of Acceptance. A product earns this accolade by providing scientific evidence that demonstrates safety and efficacy for the removal of plaque and reduction of gingivitis (gum disease). You can find a list of powered toothbrushes that currently have the ADA Seal of Acceptance on the ADA website.
Electric toothbrushes are more affordable than they used to be, but Morris doesn’t recommend spending less than $50. “The quality will be poor and it won’t last,” he says. If money is an issue, he advises waiting (brushing your teeth with your manual brush in the meantime, of course), saving up, then buying a better one.
You might be tempted to buy an electric toothbrush because you’ve seen it promoted by someone famous, but this shouldn’t be a deciding factor. “A lot of companies pay celebrities to promote who don’t even look at the scientific evidence or consider what makes that product better,” Morris says.
It can take some time to truly evaluate how effective a toothbrush will be for you, and you might try two or three different brushes until you’re satisfied you’ve found the right one, Strandburg says. Luckily, most larger companies offer a money-back guarantee, meaning if you try it and don’t like it, you can send it back for a full refund.
Chen recommends asking your dentist for advice to understand what your specific needs are, such as addressing sensitive teeth or getting a generalized deep, yet gentle, clean. If you’re lucky, your dentist’s office might even have fully sterilized one-time use testers for you to try.
How SELF Tests Electric Toothbrushes
When evaluating electric toothbrushes, we test a product over a set period of time, ideally three weeks.
Experts Consulted for These Guidelines
Product Reviews Using These Guidelines