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How to buy the best electric toothbrush

A guide to help you pick the right one for your daily brushing.

boy using electric toothbrush
Last updated: 21 October 2019

As anyone who's squirmed through a root canal or forked over thousands to their dentist for crowns and fillings will tell you, looking after your choppers is well worth the investment. Bad teeth can cause a world of pain, both physically and financially, so you want to make sure that your daily brushing is getting the job done properly.

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Battery-powered or rechargeable?

Rechargeable toothbrushes have a built-in battery pack that you can recharge from its own AC adaptor; battery-powered ones look just like regular toothbrushes with room for the battery in the handle.

Battery-powered toothbrushes are inexpensive to buy but it's worth considering the cost and environmental impact of throwing away alkaline batteries. (Using rechargeable batteries can help minimise this).

We find rechargeable electric toothbrushes cost you just over $3 per year in power, while the battery-powered toothbrushes can cost up to $27 per year in replacing batteries.

What action cleans teeth best - vibration, rotation, oscillation or multidirectional?

There are several types of electric toothbrush head movements available. Many models combine several of these movement types.

  • Vibration/pulsation: the head simply vibrates to create extra movement of the bristles.
  • Rotation/circular: the small circular head rotates rapidly.
  • Oscillation: the head moves side to side, or the rotation changes direction every turn.
  • Multidirectional: the head moves rapidly side to side and up and down.

There's no clear evidence to say that any of these types is necessarily better than the others, but electric toothbrushes generally have been found by the nonprofit Cochrane Collaboration to "reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual tooth brushing", with the greatest evidence being for rotation oscillation models.

Features to look for

Charge indicator light This shows when you should recharge your toothbrush – useful if you take your brush away on holiday or regularly unplug your charger. 

Speed Different speeds easily accessed from the front of the brush can make it easier to choose your preference.

Timer A timer that indicates when to move the brush to a different part of your mouth, or when you have passed the recommended two-minute clean.

Pressure sensor This can prevent gum damage by detecting when you're brushing too hard and reducing the movement action of the toothbrush.

Indicator bristles When it's time to replace the toothbrush head, the bristles slowly fade to white, losing their colouring

Range of heads Choosing a brush with a range of heads can help you give the best brush possible, with options including interdental (between individual teeth), tongue-cleaning and teeth-brightening styles. Some people find that a smaller circular head offers better access to back teeth.

Brush head container Useful for families or couples who share one electric brush, each with their own brush heads.

Beware a head that can't be replaced! Brushes that don't allow you to change the head will mean you have to replace the entire unit up to four times a year.

Can electric toothbrushes be used with orthodontic bands, dentures or implants?

Orthodontic bands Brushing is very important if you have bands on, so an electric brush could help here, as long as you don't dislodge the wires or brackets. The Australian Dental Association recommends discussing it with your orthodontist, as it's usually decided on a case-by-case basis. 

Dentures Electric brushes can be useful for cleaning properly, particularly if you also have poor manual dexterity.

Implanted teeth A recent survey found rotation oscillation brushes were good for cleaning implanted teeth, but still discuss your individual situation with your dentist.

How much does an electric toothbrush cost?

They range in price from $30 to $370.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.