Many dentists recommend electric toothbrushes to their patients as a better route to oral health than the traditional manual toothbrush. The good news for frugal shoppers is that you can find a cheap electric toothbrush that will improve the health of your teeth and gums, so long as you're willing to forgo the bells and whistles. Electric toothbrushes run a gamut of price points, with high-end choices starting at $75 and some even costing close to $150 but many selling somewhere between $5 and $30.
Oral-B absolutely dominates the electric toothbrush market, starting with inexpensive electric toothbrushes and climbing ever higher on the price scale. Sonicare is another big name in this product category, but the company focuses mostly on the pricey models rather than on cheap electric toothbrushes. According to Oral-B, the main difference between high- and low-priced electric toothbrushes are the extra features. Expensive electric toothbrushes come with lots of bells and whistles, such as sophisticated timers, travel cases, numerous brushing modes, pressure sensors, and digital readouts reminding you to change the brush head. One such example is the Oral-B Professional Care SmartSeries 5000 Rechargeable Toothbrush (starting at $110) which features frills like a timer that doubles as a digital clock when not in use.
Types of Electric Toothbrushes.
There are two types of electric toothbrushes on the market today: battery-powered and rechargeable.
Battery-operated electric toothbrushes
are very basic. Oral-B likens these cheap electric toothbrushes to the manual version, but with the benefit of some power to keep your teeth and gums in much better shape. Battery-powered toothbrushes are cheaper than rechargeable toothbrushes and cost only slightly more than a manual toothbrush. Most cheap battery-operated electric toothbrushes use disposable AA batteries, whose lifespan greatly depends on the type of batteries you purchase. A good example of a very basic and cheap battery-operated electric toothbrush is the Crest SpinBrush Pro
(starting at $7), which requires two AA batteries. Oral-B also has a cheap battery-operated electric toothbrush, the Oral-B CrossAction Power
(starting at $7), which uses only one AA battery. This model is unique in that it also has a rechargeable counterpart called the Oral-B CrossAction Power Max Whitening Toothbrush
(starting at $13). Both use the same cleaning action, but one is battery-operated and very cheap, and the other is rechargeable and sits in the middle of the Cheapism niche.
Rechargeable electric toothbrushes are cheap, but more expensive than battery-operated toothbrushes. They contain a rechargeable battery and come with a charging station, and often feature a timer to keep you brushing for the recommended two minutes and some kind of indicator to signal when you need to change the brush head. A good example of a rechargeable electric toothbrush with the must-have features is the Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean (starting at $17).
Just as you would replace a manual toothbrush every few months, you must replace the brush head of a cheap electric toothbrush. Experts at Animated-Teeth.com recommend that you do this every three to six months. The brush head is an important consideration in your decision about which cheap electric toothbrush to buy because in some cases the price of this replacement part ratchets up the long-term cost. Also pay attention to how readily available the brush heads are -- you don't want a cheap electric toothbrush that requires hard-to-find replacement brush heads. One advantage of choosing an Oral-B product is its large market share, making replacement brush heads widely available. Some models also use brush heads that are compatible with other models. For example, the high-priced Oral-B Professional Care SmartSeries 5000 Rechargeable Toothbrush and the cheap Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean are both compatible with nine different Oral-B brush head replacements whose prices range from $14 to $25 for three to four replacement heads. The Oral-B CrossAction line offers three different style replacement heads that fit all the CrossAction models and cost about $7 for a pack of two, while the Oral-B Vitality Sonic Clean
(starting at $19) features only one replacement brush head option that comes in packs of three for $20. The Crest SpinBrush Pro has its own line of widely available replacement brush heads for just $10 for two. In contrast, replacement brush heads for the Sonicare Xtreme e3000 Power Toothbrush
(starting at $27) are very expensive, starting at $44 for four.
Electric toothbrushes differ in the type of cleaning action they offer, but two seem dominant: oscillating and sonic. The jury is still out on which cleaning action is better, but experts agree that both are better than a manual toothbrush. Oral-B, which developed the first oscillating electric toothbrush and incorporates oscillation into most of its electric toothbrush lineup, reports on its website that an independent study conducted in 2005 found that the oscillating action removes more plaque and reduces more gingivitis than manual toothbrushes. The website also states that no other type of electric toothbrush action consistently performs as well. On the other hand, Animated-Teeth.com, which only reviews Sonicare products, says the sonic action causing the brush head to vibrate at 30,000 to 40,000 brush strokes a minute is the superior way to clean teeth and remove plaque. If you want to hedge your bet, you could try an emerging cleaning option called dual action, which combines the two motions in one brush head. Among the cheap electric toothbrushes we looked at, both Oral-B CrossAction models and the Crest SpinBrush Pro, and the high-end Oral-B Professional Care SmartSeries 5000 use the dual action motions. Note that the Oral-B Vitality Sonic Clean and the Sonicare Xtreme e3000 Power Toothbrush incorporate the sonic action and the Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean uses only an oscillating motion.
Bells and Whistles.
You can find electric toothbrushes with a variety of frills, such as timers, battery level indicators, pressure sensors, travel cases, and various speed settings. Unfortunately for shoppers on a budget, cheap electric toothbrushes rarely feature such extras. For example, the pricey Oral-B Professional Care SmartSeries 5000 boasts a timer that signals 30 second intervals for each quadrant of the mouth, for a grand total of two minutes. It also comes with a travel case and the charging stand acts as a digital clock when not in use, plus it has five brushing settings and a built-in pressure sensor that lets you know when you're brushing too hard.
While you won't find any cheap electric toothbrushes with these frills, you will find some affordable models with indicator tips that fade when it's time to change the brush head, extra-long bristle tips or interdental tips for hard to reach areas, comfort grip handles, and built-in timers that pulsate after you've brushed for two minutes. The Oral-B Vitality Precision Clean features indicator bristles, interdental tips, and a built-in timer. The Oral-B Vitality Sonic Clean comes with interdental tips, indicator tips, a rubberized comfort grip handle, and a built-in timer. Both Oral-B CrossAction models have comfort-grip handles. The Sonicare Xtreme e3000 Power Toothbrush comes with a built-in timer and the only frill on the Crest SpinBrush Pro is the super-low price tag.