Good news: Tooth decay and other dental problems are on the decline. Bad news: Not by much. If you’re over 20, there’s a 91 percent chance you’ve had at least one cavity; by the time you’re middle-aged, some of those will have rotted and fallen out of your mouth.
The solution? Brushing your teeth, just like mom told you. Good dental hygiene doesn’t require a fancy electric toothbrush, but dentists commonly recommend them because, let’s be honest, you suck when it comes to brushing your teeth. You don’t brush for long enough. You don’t cover all the tooth and gum surfaces. You don’t have the right motion. You leave so much of the plaque encrusted on your teeth that you may as well eat gummy bears before bedtime.
Electric toothbrushes can solve all of the above problems, but they’re expensive (even before the cost of replacement brush heads), and getting the most out of them takes as much training as a manual brush. That has led directly to the industry’s latest upgrade to oral hygiene: the smart electric toothbrush. These Bluetooth-connected brushes pair with your smart phone and guide you through the brushing process, showing which teeth to focus on, for how long, and even how fast you should be moving the brush head around.
Are they worth the extra coin? Maybe. I spent several weeks testing six brush models—both app-enabled and simpler models—to figure out which was most effective, easiest to use, and most worthy of the investment.
For something app-enabled, turn to Philips or Oral-B, the two major makers of smart toothbrushes. I reviewed the top-of-the-line models from each brand, starting with the Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected HX9120 ($162 on Amazon, Rating: 9/10). The FlexCare Platinum pulls out all the stops—as it should, for close to $200. A textured grip on one side makes the brush easy to hold, and brush heads are slim but sturdy. The entire thing maneuvers easily in your mouth. That’s good because Philips’ app, which connects to the brush via Bluetooth, will have you moving around a lot. The app divides your mouth into six sections and visually guides you through each of them, thanks to sensors in the brush handle that detect positioning (and thus which teeth you’re brushing). As you brush your teeth front and back, each mouth zone turns from gray to white. The better you do, the whiter they get, and the app provides constant feedback on whether you’re moving the brush too much or pressing too hard on your teeth. There’s a lot of useless clutter in the app, but the primary brushing tutor works well and offers instruction on exactly how you’re supposed to brush with an electric—a light hand, slow movements. The three brushing modes and three intensity levels allow for customized configuration, but my favorite part of the kit is the charging station, which features a chamber for storing up to two brush heads. The storage case also sanitizes brush heads with ultraviolet light when the brush is not in use. That may be a massive gimmick, but the germaphobe buried deep inside of me appreciates it nonetheless.
If a toothbrushing app seems like overkill, consider the simpler Philips Sonicare DiamondClean HX9392 ($185 on Amazon, Rating: 8/10), which offers a similar brushing experience (plus two more brushing modes, minus the intensity settings). The brush works just as well as the FlexCare, but the real sell is the charging station. Rather than a clinical hunk of plastic, you store this brush in a glass case that wirelessly charges the brush. It’s a nifty system and by far the most elegant way to keep your countertop decluttered.
The other major app-enabled brush we considered is the Oral-B Genius Pro 8000 ($159 on Amazon, Rating: 6/10). The Oral-B is a rotary brush, so bristles spin around instead of vibrating back and forth as they do on Sonicare brushes. Choosing between rotary versus sonic brushes comes down to personal preference; both can clean your teeth equally well if the brushes move fast enough. The app experience, however, is a much different situation. Rather than relying on sensors to detect the brush’s position, the Oral-B app uses your phone’s camera to visually monitor your brushing. That’s easier said than done. It requires sticking your phone to the mirror with a big suction cup holder and standing perfectly still while you’re brushing, or else the app bombards you with complaints that your face isn’t visible. There’s no timer nor any visual feedback of your face in the screen (probably because people are gunshy about filming themselves in the bathroom), making it even tougher to get right. Even with everything perfectly situated, the app habitually misreads the brush’s location. As a result, I found myself focusing more on where I was standing rather than how I was brushing. While the app is a total wash, the brush itself is fast and capable (with six operating modes) and easy to maneuver, though it’s a mystery as to why designers paired a black brush with a white charging base.
Maybe you don’t want an app for brushing your teeth. That’s fine—you don’t need one. For app-free options, I tried the Waterpik Complete Care 5.5 ($99 MSRP, $120 on Amazon, Rating: 5/10), which combines an oscillating rotary brush with a Waterpik “water flosser.” If you’re not old enough to remember the Waterpik craze from the 1980s, imagine an at-home dental device filled with water which you could use for waterspray wars with your little brother when you were supposed to be cleaning your teeth. It was also said to be really good for you—Waterpik claims its method works 50 percent better than string floss for your gums. If you’re a fan of the ‘pik, a combo solution like the Waterpik Complete Care will reduce counter clutter, but the toothbrush itself is on the clunky side, with a thick, slippery handle and a stubby brush that’s tough to maneuver in your mouth. The motor is so loud it sounds like it’s about to take flight, particularly in its fastest of three modes. And despite the massive base station, there’s no built-in storage for multiple brush heads or picks, making it best suited for just one user. Besides the brush, the Waterpik water flossing experience feels just as disturbing as ever, with warm slobber running out of your mouth and (hopefully) into the sink during the lengthy cleaning process.
If you prefer a sonic-style brush head but want to keep the water feature, the Waterpik Complete Care 5.0 ($99 MSRP, $81 on Amazon) comes in a virtually identical package but gives you a traditional sonic brush instead.
Of course, if you just want the basics, you can find an electric toothbrush for much less. Excellent no-frills models are widely available around the $50 to $60 mark, including this rotary one from Goby ($65, Rating: 5/10). This brush comes with the a two-speed motor and a basic stand for charging and drying—and that’s it. You only get one brush head in the box, because Goby wants you to sign up for its subscription program (you pay $50 up front instead of $65), in which you agree to pay $6 per brush head, shipped every one, two, or three months as you prefer. Subscription toothbrushes, much like subscription razors, promise convenience for the user (and reliable cash flow for the manufacturer), and are growing in popularity. As for the brush itself, the relatively narrow handle feels nice in the hand, but the chunky brush head can be, like the Waterpik 5.5, difficult to maneuver around the mouth. That said, if you’re focused, it does a credible job of getting your teeth clean. Which will make your mom, and your dentist, proud.