Powered toothbrushes are not just for the lazy, they're a real boon in oral hygiene. But what key features should you look for? Our panel chews it over
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The Independent Online
Electric toothbrushes have evolved from frivolous gizmos for the lazy to a recognised advance in dental hygiene. The cost of brushes and the claims made by manufacturers for their products are so bewildering, however, that choosing an electric toothbrush is often based on price or aesthetic appeal. But there are other factors, from automated timers to brush action, to be considered.


Expert advice was provided by dentist Bradley Abrahams; the other testers were recent graduates Amy Beck and Andrew Markou, both keen to greet potential employers with a polished smile; and Merrilyn Wiseman, an ex-dental hygienist and the mother of three grown-up children.


Seven toothbrushes were tested by each of the panellists. These ranged from battery-operated models which simply vibrate and cost a few pounds, to the Sonicare which claims to "work beyond the bristles" using "sonic technology", a serious investment at pounds 129. The brushes were judged on the suitability and versatility of their head size; their ability to clean hard-to-reach areas; the efficiency of the brush action in removing plaque and debris; their likelihood of causing soft-tissue damage; and finally, their value for money, considering the life span of brush heads and the cost of the replacing them.


pounds 11.99

Bradley Abrahams described this brush, which incorporates six rotating bristles, as "a good idea which did not work in practice. All rotation stopped within 30 seconds of my first brushing exercise. The result is a vibration with no advantage over manual brushing."

Andrew Markou disagreed, finding it "extremely comfortable". He described the sensation as "gentle, it gives a pleasurable sensation almost like that of a massage". However, like Amy Beck, he thought that the head was large and obstructive and the whole experience rather too noisy. Merrilyn Wiseman thought this brush offered the best value for money and was pleased to find there was no vibration in the handle.


pounds 5.95; replacement heads pounds 2.99 for two

This small-headed brush is the ideal gimmick to encourage children to brush regularly as its soft bristles are unlikely to cause tissue damage even if it was used incorrectly. It was deemed insubstantial, however, and thought to vibrate too much in the handle. Merrilyn Wiseman said: "I felt I had to use it like a normal toothbrush to get anything out of it; otherwise it had an uncomfortable feeling on my teeth." Amy Beck liked its "fairly small head" but said "I wanted to brush my teeth manually after using it."


pounds 59.99; replacement heads pounds 4.95 for four, children's pounds 2.75 for two

This rechargable model is supplied with four identical brush heads, a two-minute timer facility and a battery-charge indicator. "Overall I am very impressed with the Philips," said our dentist Bradley Abrahams. "It's well designed with a brush which moves in two planes - longitudinally and also in a slower rolling movement associated with normal brushing." The other panellists agreed and were particularly fond of the brush head's small size and the narrowness of its neck, both of which make for easy access to all parts of the mouth.

Although the brush head vibrated impressively, the handle was steady and comfortable to hold. Despite the vibrations being fairly strong, the testers didn't find the Philips too rough on their mouths. The brush incorporates a pressure-control mechanism whereby the neck clicks back if too much pressure is applied to the teeth or gums. Nevertheless, Bradley Abrahams suspected it could cause soft- tissue damage if used without care.

Amy Beck complained that the timer, a small light on the handle, was awkward to use, "I had to keep taking the brush out of my mouth to see it".


pounds 49.50; replacement for normal and children's brush head, pounds 4.99; rotary and incidental brush heads pounds 9.99

"This brush has more attachments than my vacuum cleaner," said Bradley Abrahams of the Rowenta which comes with a selection of three brush heads - a standard toothbrush shape, a circular head and and a narrow inter- dental brush. "The first brush I tried was the circular brush (similar to the Braun's) but it did not work very well and I was ready to write the Rowenta off until I tried the conventional brush which has an action very similar to the Philips'. It oscillates more slowly with apparently larger movements and it gives more of an impression of 'brushing your teeth', it is really quite effective."

Amy Beck liked the small compact brush but found the head rattled in her mouth. Andrew Markou agreed that the various brush heads made for "a very effective clean." But both he and Amy Beck decided that swapping the heads would be too time-consuming to make a habit of it.

The audible timer on this brush was preferred to the visual ones on some of the other models tested and Merrilyn Wiseman also liked the storage space for the spare brushes.


pounds 64.99; pack of two replacement heads, pounds 7.99

Judged the best all-round brush, this was described by Bradley Abrahams as "the one most likely to do an efficient job in almost anybody's hands. The action produced [the circular brush head rotates against the teeth] means the teeth are cleaned with minimal vibration in the handle. The brush head is small and allows easy access all round the mouth."

Amy Beck, however, found it "slightly difficult to reach the sides of her mouth but did enjoy the brush action.

This brush also offered a popular timer feature: variation in the brush's speed indicates when you have been cleaning your teeth for two minutes (the minimum recommended by dentists).

**SPARKLE 1279

pounds 4.95; replacement heads pounds 2.99 for two

All the testers complained about the vibrations in the handle of this battery-operated brush but most agreed it was still the best of the lower-priced models.

Bradley Abrahams said that it "provided an adequate rolling action and should help to make some improvement over manual brushing." Merrilyn Wiseman thought it offered good value, produced the same freshness as manual brushing, and would encourage children to clean their teeth.

Andrew Markou, however, found this brush "too assertive yet not effective; unpleasant to hold; bottom heavy [the batteries are in the handle]; too noisy; and neither manoeuvrable nor flexible in the mouth."


pounds 129; replacement heads pounds 14.99, pack of two pounds 24.99

All four testers enjoyed using this product but questioned whether its features justified the Sonicare costing twice as much as the Braun.

Andrew Markou said: "It's extremely effective and a lot of thought has gone into the aesthetics. It's well weighted but there have been oversights in the area that matters - the head of the brush which is far too big while the neck is too short, making reaching the back of the mouth difficult and cumbersome."

Bradley Abrahams said: "Use of the Sonicare is an acquired skill which involves a gentle stroking action rather than the sort of movement associated with normal brushing. In the wrong hands and with inadequate tuition, it could damage soft tissue. But I am impressed with this brush."

Amy Beck thought the timer (which tells you when to move from one area of your mouth to the next) was a good idea but too complicated. She was disappointed that there were no different attachments but was pleased to find that the vibrations were confined to the brush rather than the handle: "It's a good brush but not worth double the price of the others."


Philips call 0181 689 2166; Rowenta available from Argos, Index, CRS, House of Fraser; Braun from Argos, Boots, John Lewis, House of Fraser; Sparkle from Argos; Johnson & John-son Reach from Superdrug, some supermarkets, Boots and pharmacies; Qesco, distributed by Jegs electrical, ring 01702 420 360 for stockists; Sonicare from Harrods, John Lewis, larger Boots and by mail order on 0181 567 0318. !