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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Head to Head: Sonicare versus Oral-B electric toothbrushes

I've been a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush user for years. While I've been largely satisfied with the brushes, they had several problems. First, the brush heads are expensive. A 3-pack costs $27 after taxes, and even Costco doesn't provide a decent discount. At $9/head, they would be affordable if they lasted about 6 months like Sonicare claims they would. In practice, the heads start looking shaggy after 2 months and are beyond dead after 3. Granted, I have tough to clean teeth, and I brush my teeth after every meal, so I'm tougher on my brushes than most by about 50%. The second problem is that the brush bodies are not very reliable. The batteries die after a couple of years, and I've had brush heads die on me for no reason within a year of purchase.

My dental hygienist told me that his patients with Oral-B electric brushes seemed to come in with better cleaned teeth (not that my teeth had any problems), and the brush heads seem more robust and are at the very least cheaper. Oral-B claims a more realistic 3 months for their brush head's longevity, but their brush heads are half the price of the Sonicare ones on Amazon, and you can get a Costco family-sized pack for much less than even that.

As far as I can tell, there are no peer-reviewed studies of Oral-B versus Sonicare brush-heads on the internet, so all I can go by are my subjective experiences. Sonicare's teeth brushing experience is light driving an electric car. There's a purr in your mouth, and the brush softly moves up and down on your teeth and along your gums. The noise is there, but it's not annoying. Oral-B is like sticking a machine gun in your mouth: not only do you get a massive grinding noise, you feel the bristles scrubbing against your teeth and gumline. It's definitely a very German approach to teeth brushing --- you can feel the raw brute power in your teeth.

I tried switching back and forth for a few weeks here and there, and the conclusion I can draw is that the Sonicare experience is the deluxe pampered experience (sort of like driving a BMW or Mercedes), but the Oral-B feels cleaner. Whether that's because my gums/teeth have been brutalized or because they're actually cleaner, I'll have to wait for a dental visit to see. The reality though, is that I haven't had any cavities for a decade and a half, and don't expect any change. My conclusion, buy the Sonicare if you have sensitive teeth or don't mind spending the money, the Oral-B if you prefer the "big throaty engine" sound of say, a Harley Davidson in your mouth.


Unknown said...

Wishy washy review. I demand to see DATA that shows why one is better than the other!

Marstein said...

We are an Oral-B household and the handles with the batteries have held up for years. Can't remember when I bought the last one but it's been more than 3 years. The paddle brushes are brutal in the first month or so but you get used to them and they do a thorough job.

Unknown said...

A late comment, but here's a peer-reviewed comparison between Oral-B and Sonicare:

Unknown said...

Here's a peer-reviewed comparison between Oral-B and Sonicare:

Dr. B said...

Yes, Rodney provides a link to a peer-reviewed comparison of Oral-B and Sonicare--from 1997! Neither of the toothbrush models in this comparison likely are sold anymore, and the technology from both companies has advanced considerably. Without a contemporary review of currently-available toothbrushes, we have no meaningful scientific comparison of Oral-B and Sonicare. Even reviews from users and dentists are only anecdotal and impressionistic--fine for what they are, but hardly a substitute for a peer-reviewed, controlled trial like the one Rodney found. Maybe someone can find something more up-to-date and post it here.

leonard said...

I found that same 1997 review. I poked around PubMed a bit more and found some more recent ones as well.

This 2005 review, A comparison of the plaque removal efficacy of two power toothbrushes: Oral-b Professional Care Series versus Sonicare Elite, find the Oral-B to be better.

This 2013 review, Plaque removal efficacy of oscillating-rotating power toothbrushes: review of six comparative clinical trials. again found the Oral-B to better.

Although they list their methods, I have no basis for actually judging if these are valid studies, but they might be of interest. :)