The toothbrush has come a long way since it was electrified. Currently, there is a dizzying array of technologies loaded into the humble handheld and they come packed full of patents, which have resulted in turning the act of buying a toothbrush into a serious investment.
Many are now connected, turning them into “smart” brushes that can provide helpful feedback about how efficient your time in front of the bathroom mirror has been, but this has really pushed up the prices of these brushes.
The language manufacturers use can be a little confusing, from micro-vibrations to sonic pulses, but what really matters is how clean your teeth feel after you’ve spent, dentist-recommended, two minutes with each brush and how your oral hygiene habits improve over time.
A couple of things that a manual brush does have over an electric is that it never needs to be charged and no matter how covered it gets in toothpaste and water it’ll never start to malfunction – which has been a criticism levelled at electric brushes in the past.
That’s why we were looking for brushes with an efficient battery system that would give lots of usage, but required minimal time spent on the charging cradle and those that had a good watertight casing to protect the battery and other components to increase the product’s longevity.
How we tested
We spent more than a month testing all the brushes to see how they performed over time and whether they continued to deliver that fresh from the hygienist clean feeling morning and night. Here’s what we found out.
The best electric toothbrush in 2021 is:
- Best overall – Philips sonicare protective clean 5100: £102.57, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for that premium clean – Oral B iO series 9: £249.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for sensitive gums – Foreo issa 2: £149, Foreo.com
- Best for a precision clean – Oral B genius X 20000: £134.85, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for a deep clean – Philips sonicare 9000 diamondclean: £340, Boots.com
- Best electric toothbrush under £50 – Oral B power teen: £41.28, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for toddlers and babies – Foreo issa mikro: £31.85, Foreo.com
- Best for ultraviolet cleaning – ION-Sei electric toothbrush: £90.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for flossing – Waterpik sonic-fusion professional: £174, Ninthavenue.uk
- Best for parents and kids – Colgate smart electronic toothbrush: £223.99, Onbuy.com
Philips sonicare protective clean 5100
This brush really hits the sweet spot between delivering the most useful advances in toothbrush tech at a really good price. It has just three brushing “modes”, which is practically basic these days when some of the more expensive brushes pack in seven and upwards. However, the “clean”, “white” and “gum care” modes cover the range of gum and teeth sensitivities, so you will be able to find the right mode for your mouth.
The “quadpacer” timing system divides your mouth into quarters and buzzes when it’s time to move on to the next quadrant and the pressure sensor makes sure you’re not damaging the gum line. The manufacturer claims the 5100’s li-ion battery gives you two weeks of brushing on one charge, although we found that it actually gives more than that and were able to brush twice daily for two minutes each time and had to charge it only after the third week.
Oral B iO series 9
Best: For that premium clean
A well designed, lightweight, smart brush with modern looks that is, quite literally, bristling with tech from its “frictionless magnetic drive”, to the “gentle micro-vibrations”. This did translate into a really effective, squeaky clean feel after we’d finished brushing with one of the seven modes available on the Oral B iO9.
As you’d expect from the price there is a pressure sensor, colourful LED graphics on the handle which make it easy to track brushing performance and the effectiveness of each session and the whole process is backed up with an AI-enabled app, which prompts you to get full coverage so that no tooth is left behind.
You also get a choice of three handle colours and a magnetic charger, which is nicely designed, easy to use and gives you weeks of brushing time on a full charge.
Foreo issa 2
Best: For sensitive gums
This one is different to many of the tech brushes that populate the rest of the round-up, both in its futuristic looks and how it feels both in the hand and in the mouth, because it has silicone bristles which combine with polymer to target stubborn plaque, while being kinder to sensitive gums. It still relies on that sonic pulse effect to get the job done and comes with 16 speeds and a built in timer encased in the minimalistic handle.
We found the brush head was nice and flexible, so we didn’t really miss a sensitivity sensor and the issa 2 packs a punch when it comes to charging as Foreo claims that one hour’s worth of charge from a USB port will provide you with a year’s worth of usage.
We didn’t have the brush long enough to test this claim, but it certainly wasn’t starting to flag for the time that we used it.
Oral B genius X 20000
Best: For a precision clean
The manufacturer has focussed on the fact that even if you’re brushing for two minutes, it’s very likely that by the time you finish you will still have missed an area of your mouth. The genius X has an AI-enabled companion app that gives feedback on the areas that you need to concentrate on the next time. A dentist had told our tester they had been neglecting some of their back teeth and the app identified exactly the same area.
Overall, teeth felt thoroughly cleaned by the genius X, which has six different cleaning modes, including one for sensitive teeth and the fact that it’s powered by a lithium-ion battery gives two full weeks of brushing on one single charge. We also liked the phone cradle built into the brush case, so we didn’t have to precariously balance our phone against the hand wash while we brushed.
Philips sonicare 9000 diamondclean
Best: For a deep clean
The diamondclean is Philip’s sleek looking addition to the high profile Sonicare range, so called because it aims to pulse and move the brush head with dizzying rapidity as it moves over the teeth. It sends toothpaste and water between the teeth, while the brush head gets busy on any plaque build up, which is probably why we were very impressed with the professional quality of the clean, particularly on “deep clean +” mode.
A clear light up display on the handle indicates which of the four cleaning modes you’re in and there’s connected back up from a very thorough app.
Oral B power teen
Best: Electric toothbrush under £50
It’s going to take more than some black and white graphics on the handle and a picture of some smiling teens on the packaging to pique a teen’s interest in oral health. However, if you look beyond this you have a good, well-priced brush, with a built-in timer, three speed modes, a pressure sensor and two weeks worth of brushing on a single charge, which is handy because we find that the sink is usually the last resting place for any brush that has actually been used by a teenager.
Foreo issa mikro
Best: For toddlers and babies
It turns out you don’t need teeth to have an electric toothbrush and this brush from Foreo is designed to help the 0-5s develop a love of brushing and form a habit that they will, hopefully, take into their later years. As with Foreo’s adult range, this brush uses silicone bristles, which are soft on gums and milk teeth and the brush has a massage mode, which can ease teething troubles.
The mikro’s tactile, easy to grip silicone handle makes it easy to hold for smaller hands and the tapered, round brush head adds to the brush’s ease of use to promote independent brushing.
ION-Sei electric toothbrush
Best: For ultraviolet cleaning
This brush adds another level of sophistication to your brushing regimen with a brush head containing an “ultra violet (UV) LED light”, that reduces your mouth’s population of plaque causing bacteria, while leaving your teeth and mouth unscathed.
We didn’t have prolonged enough use to test the claims of the UV light with a six monthly dental check up, but the toothbrush did do a good job of deep cleaning the teeth and the charging system allowed for just under two weeks of cleaning.
Waterpik sonic-fusion professional
Best: For flossing
If you suffer from gum disease, then you’re probably already under advice from your dentist to make sure that you floss and have been provided with a pack of interdentals. However, if rushed morning routines mean that the pack hasn’t been opened yet then this two-in-one flossing toothbrush could be a good option.
For the price, you get an ergonomic brush, which is surprising considering that the handle’s housing contains the two different technologies. There is a two-minute timer and three cleaning modes (brush, floss or brush + floss) with the latter giving your teeth a robust clean and going some way to stop you feeling guilty for never flossing.
Colgate smart electronic toothbrush
Best: For parents and kids
Colgate’s first foray into “smart” brushing is a well-priced, versatile family brush that gamifies the brushing process with its app-connected game called GoPirate, which encourages the user to brush for the required amount of time.
The game also has a family mode so that mum and dad can keep tabs on how the less enthusiastic brushers in the family are staying on top of their oral routines. Beyond the advantages for the family, the brush is nice and ergonomic with a 10-day battery life.
Electric toothbrush FAQs
Are electric toothbrushes better than manual toothbrushes?
Research shows that electric toothbrushes are more effective at cleaning teeth and protecting from gum disease if they are used properly and for the recommended time. That’s because the vibration of the bristles works extra hard to remove plaque from your teeth and reduce the risk of inflammation of the gums. Oscillating (rotating) and sonic (vibrates at very high speeds and frequencies) electric toothbrushes have been found to work even harder.
Electric toothbrushes often have extra features that are also significant. A built-in timer, for example, can help ensure you brush your teeth long enough. Some toothbrushes even connect to your phone to bring you personalised brushing advice.
Some people report being more focused when cleaning their teeth with an electric toothbrush and kids tend to find them more fun – especially if there are associated child-friendly apps involved. People with braces can also find it easier to keep their teeth clean with an electric toothbrush.
But electric toothbrushes are more pricey than manual ones and finding replacement heads isn’t always easy. It’s also worth noting that not everyone likes the feeling of using them.
Can electric toothbrushes be bad for your teeth?
Brushing too hard and fast with an electric toothbrush can permanently damage teeth enamel and cause gum recession. But electric toothbrushes can only damage teeth and gums in this way if excess pressure is applied, so always make sure you allow the movement of the toothbrush to do all the hard work.
Top features to look for in an electric toothbrush
- Brushing timer – This will help to make sure your teeth are brushed for the dentist-recommended time of two minutes. Some electric toothbrushes are programmed to be on for just two minutes, while others will alert you by beeping or vibrating when it’s time to stop.
- Brushing modes – Some brushes, often those that are more expensive, come with a range of brushing modes, which are designed to tailor your electronic toothbrush to your cleaning needs, for example, if you have sensitive teeth, you can opt for a more gentle setting.
- Pressure sensor – Pressing too hard against your teeth can cause harm to your gums, so some electric toothbrushes have pressure sensors to alert you when you’re pushing too hard.
- Mobile apps – A range of electric toothbrushes have Bluetooth meaning they can connect to your phone via an app, doing so gives you additional data on how you brush your tooth. With some apps, such as Oral B, you’ll receive real-time feedback, as well as tips and instructions.
How to use an electric toothbrush properly
Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle towards the gum line. Move the brush gently back and forth, with a circular movement over the front, back and top of your teeth. Don’t scrub, especially along the gum line, and use floss for harder-to-reach areas between the teeth. Some toothbrushes also allow you to brush your tongue to avoid cavity-causing bacteria.
You should spend at least two minutes using this technique, spending 30 seconds on each section of your mouth – upper right, upper left, lower right and lower left. Repeat both morning and night.
How to clean an electric toothbrush
To make sure your electric toothbrush stands the test of time, we’d recommend cleaning it regularly. Rinse the toothbrush head and electric body after every use to remove toothpaste build-up and excess grime. A cotton bud can also be used to reach harder areas, such as the base, or a damp cloth for tougher debris.
How long do electric toothbrushes last?
The average electric toothbrush lasts three to five years. Many electric toothbrushes come with a two-year warranty. But you will need to change the heads more frequently – the general advice is at least every three months. Some of the newer electric toothbrush heads have colour change indicators to alert you when it needs replacing.
Are electric toothbrushes eco-friendly and can they be recycled?
Yes and no. Yes, because when it’s time for a new toothbrush, you only have to replace the head. No, because they are still made of plastic and after their lifespan, they have to go to landfill. Although toothbrush heads are not generally recyclable, it’s worth noting that because electric toothbrushes last longer, you don’t have to replace them as often as manual ones. What’s more, the heads are a lot smaller than a whole manual toothbrush, leading to less plastic waste overall.
But there’s nothing to stop you from recycling batteries and cables, and a growing number of brands are offering recycling services. Colgate’s oral care recycling programme accepts the whole toothbrush, packaging and all. To use the service, take your unwanted products to one of the drop-off locations across the UK. You can find the full list of collection bins here.
The verdict: Electric toothbrushes
Providing a good balance between the money you spend and the brushing benefits that you’ll receive, the Philips sonicare 5100 delivers all the proven benefits of brushing electrically, while ensuring that you’ll have some money left over to keep you in toothpaste and mouthwash.
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Now you can be sure your young adult’s teeth are getting a thorough clean with the Oral-B teen – here’s our review
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