For many people, electric toothbrushes are better than manual toothbrushes for cleaning teeth. But which should you buy? This article compares Braun's Oral B and Philips' Sonicare - two of the top brands - with each other. Specifically, it compares the Oral B 8900 DLX with OxyJet Irrigator to the Sonicare RS980 with UV Sanitizer.
Braun's Oral B with Oxyjet Irrigator
The Oral B 8900 DLX with OxyJet Irrigator comes with a toothbrush that has a circular brush head. The bristles vibrate with both a side-to-side motion and an in-and-out motion, and have two speed settings.
The OxyJet squirts water between teeth and at the gumline to aerate the gums and dislodge debris between the teeth that are out of reach of brushes. It has a whole dial of different spray intensities (from 1 for gentle to 5 for robust), and can either stream or spray the water. It can also squirt mouthwash instead of water. It will keep the spaces between the teeth cleaner for longer, but is not a substitute for flossing.
The white box behind the OxyJet water tank and handles has storage areas for the brush and jet heads.
Sonicare with UV Sanitizer
View of inside of UV box. Brushes mount on the pegs at bottom, UV comes from the silver cage thing in the middle.
The toothbrush of the Sonicare with UV Sanitizer has a brush head shaped like manual toothbrushes. Its bristles vibrate side-to-side, and have three settings - two different speeds and a "massage" pattern of motion.
The UV Sanitizer is a box with UV light that kills plaque-building microbes on the brush heads, preventing them from accumulating as the brush head gets older.
Comparing for Teeth Cleanliness
My measure of overall teeth cleanliness is based on how much plaque has accumulated by the following morning. Comparing just the brushes by themselves, the Sonicare cleans teeth slightly better than the Oral B. However, the Oral B brush combined with the OxyJet works better than the Sonicare. On the other hand, the Sonicare's UV Sanitizer does keep the brush heads cleaner for longer, while Oral B brush heads become less effective as they get older. (Both are still much better than a manual toothbrush.)
Comparing for Learning Curve
Although the Sonicare toothbrush with UV Sanitizer does clean better than the Oral B toothbrush without the OxyJet, especially when the brush heads have been in use for a while, there is a steeper learning curve involved. It took me longer to figure out how to use the Sonicare toothbrush effectively - angle to hold the brush, in what order to clean the teeth, etc. It actually came with an educational DVD to explain the best way to use it. The Oral B toothbrush is very straightforward by comparison, and will clean teeth equally well using a wide variety of approaches.
Comparing the Built-In Timers
Both electric toothbrush brands have a 30-second timer to indicate how long you should spend on each quarter of your mouth (upper left, upper right, bottom left, bottom right). After two minutes (four 30-second intervals), the Sonicare automatically shuts off. The Oral B does not; it provides a signal that 2 minutes have elapsed but will stay on. The Sonicare can be annoying if you routinely take longer than 2 minutes to brush all of your teeth.
Comparing the Brush Heads
The Oral B toothbrush head attaches to the handle with a noticeable click. It is also easier to remove from the handle afterward. The Sonicare has no obvious indication that the brush head is fully mounted, and there is no convenient place to brace a finger for removing it from the handle without disturbing the bristles.
Comparing for Mess
To keep toothpaste from flying off of the bristles the moment you turn on an Oral B brush, just jam the toothpaste into the bristles fairly deeply. I apply a small amount before I start, then add more toothpaste after the first half of my mouth - when I've finished the top teeth and before moving to the bottom. The Oral B ends up using far less toothpaste than a manual brush.
The Sonicare, on the other hand, will fling toothpaste everywhere no matter where on the bristles you put it. You have to be careful to keep your mouth as closed as possible, as it will throw toothpaste surprisingly high into the air (based on where the spots land on the mirror). Even of the toothpaste that stays in your mouth, a lot of it never ends up cleaning any teeth but will land in big drops on teeth you aren't working on and on your tongue. I add toothpaste six times - upper outside left, upper outside right, upper inside left, upper inside right, lower outside left, lower outside right. (By that point there's enough toothpaste fallen on the lower teeth that I don't need more for lower inside left and right.) The end result is a lot of stopping and restarting, and more overall toothpaste use.
Additionally, especially if your mouth is small, the Sonicare toothbrush works best if you use a large brush head for the outside of the teeth and a smaller one for the inside. Oral B is more flexible in that you can brush everything effectively with just one small brush head. Normally when I'm using the Sonicare, I just do the best I can with one brush, because it's too much effort to change in the middle and have to clean two brushes afterward instead of only one. (Yes, I'm lazy.)
Comparing for Sound
The sound of the Oral B toothbrush is a high whining buzz. The sound of the OxyJet is more like a vibrating screech - and can be quite loud. The Sonicare toothbrush produces a lower-pitched, more pleasant hum.
Comparing for Battery Life
The charge lasts longer on the Sonicare toothbrush than the Oral B, and there is a battery life indicator on the front that the Oral B doesn't have. The Oral B bristle speed just gradually becomes slower and slower as the battery runs down. The Sonicare bristles continue to vibrate at the same speed right up until the very end.
The Oral B battery and charging system is less robust in general; sometimes you have to fiddle with the dock to get it to charge. It also dies permanently a lot faster than the Sonicare battery - I've had mine replaced twice now and the third one has also died since. This surprises me somewhat, because Braun is a German company and they usually do good engineering work.
Both toothbrushes came with an assortment of other features and attachments. The Sonicare has a number of sophisticated programming options (different speeds and patterns for different people, for example), as well as a travel charger and carrying case. The Oral B came with some of every type of brush head they have, including a polisher and tongue cleaner. I've not tried most of these.
I hope this electric toothbrush review helps you choose the best electric toothbrush for you. May you have awesomely healthy gums and teeth throughout your life. :)