When you go to a store to look at or buy an electric toothbrush, you will usually see two major brands with full-color displays of their products: Oral-B and Sonicare. Oral-B, which is under the Braun/Procter & Gamble umbrella, and Sonicare, which is made by Philips, have been developing and selling their electric toothbrushes for over 30 years and control about 65% of the electric toothbrush market.
At TestHut, we wanted to take a look at these two brands, really test their best products and come up with our own verdict as to which brand does a better job doing what a toothbrush is meant to do—clean your teeth.
In our tests, Oral-B brushes were better in some areas, but the overall winner is Sonicare!
Let’s break it down.
Research and testing
At TestHut, all of our testing begins with countless hours of research. We do a deep dive into the products we choose to try to know everything we can about them.[videopack id=”499″ width=”600″ height=”338″]https://www.testhut.com/uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2021/02/all-brushes-charging-timelapse.mp4[/videopack]
We read professional reviews from all the major international testing publications, we read countless comments from users online, and we talk to dentists and directly to the companies to find out as much information as possible.
We spent hours trying to understand the complicated product lines of Oral-B and Sonicare with their dozens of models and infuriatingly illogical numbering systems. We wanted to comprehend the subtle differences from one model to the next to know what you pay for when you choose one brush over the other.
After choosing test brushes to order from each brand, we dissected the apps and the smart features of their flagship toothbrushes, and were ultimately not very impressed with either of them. In fact, we liked the middle of the line brushes better from both manufacturers.
Since cleaning is the most important feature an electric toothbrush can offer, we want to focus on this at first.
Caveat: We are not dentists nor are we professional hygienists. However, all of our testers have had electric toothbrushes for years, and we spent lots of time researching cleaning and talking to our dentists about different brushes and plaque removal techniques.
In our home tests, we used plaque revealing tablets to show which brushes removed the most plaque from our teeth. We tried various settings and brush heads. After months of testing, the results were surprisingly clear. Overall, Sonicare brushes cleaned better than Oral-B.
The biggest difference between Sonicare and Oral-B is the movement of the brush heads. Oral-B brushes use an oscillating motion where the round brush head turns very rapidly (between 7,000-10,000 times a minute) 45 degrees in alternating directions. The higher-end Oral-B brushes use a 3-D action which combines the oscillations with pulsations making for a powerful cleaning action that we observed in our lab tests.[videopack id=”2263″]https://www.testhut.com/uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2021/11/OB_vs_Sonicare_heads-1.mp4[/videopack]
Sonicare, on the other hand, uses vibrations between 31,000-62,000 per minute. The larger, more traditionally shaped brush head vibrates rapidly to clean teeth and create a sonic action that is supposed to force fluids and toothpaste between teeth and in nooks and crannies to get them really clean.
One of our testers, who had been using an Oral-B brush for years, was surprised to find that he preferred the Sonicare action. It made his teeth feel cleaner, especially the interdental areas and where teeth were irregular. This clean feeling was confirmed by our plaque tests; using plaque reveal pills, we could clearly see that on the gum line and between teeth, the Sonicare brushes were consistently doing a better job than the Oral-B models.
At TestHut we try not to get too focused on or distracted by features that are not adding value to the products we test. In the ever competitive electric toothbrush market, it seems like companies are piling on features to try to impress their way to success.
The feature we see the most in these brushes are modes. You will see that the more expensive and impressive looking a brush is, the more modes it will offer. Both Sonicare and Oral-B offer similar modes as you move up the product lines. They both start with a basic cleaning mode that all brushes come with. Then they tend to add a “sensitive” or “gum care” mode that cuts the power down a little for people with sensitive teeth.
As you move up the product line, the brushes will add whitening, extra clean, and even a tongue cleaning mode. The flagship brush from Sonicare, the DiamondClean Smart offers 5 modes, and with each mode you can choose 3 different intensities. This sounds impressive on paper and on an ad sheet, but in practice, how many modes does a person really need or use?
Oral-B’s Genius X model offers 6 different modes, and their newest iO 9 offers an amazing 7 modes: daily clean, whitening, gum care, sensitive, intense, super sensitive, and tongue clean, but again… does anyone need that many modes?
One feature we do like that both companies offer starting in the middle of their model line-ups is a visible pressure sensor. When researching electric toothbrushes, we found that in the early 2000s there was some concern that brushing too hard with an electric toothbrush could cause damage to the gums. This is also true for manual brushing, but with an electric toothbrush you can actually measure the pressure being applied and warn the user. In our research and tests, we found that the optimal pressure is somewhere near 300 grams of force, and all of these brushes were set to signal you once you reach this level of pressure.
Most pressure sensors combine a light on the handle and a reduction in speed to let you know that you need to ease up on the pressure.
The lower-end models have a single indicator light on the handle, and the higher-end models use an LED ring light. The Oral-B Genius allows you to modify the color of the light, which is kind of fun.
The iO series from Oral-B not only tells you when you are brushing too hard, but they can also tell you if you are brushing too softly. These brushes include green light which is the “just right” pressure light.
When you get to the top of the line brushes from Sonicare and Oral-B, the moonshot of this technological space race is AI. Both companies claim that their smart brushes will improve your brushing habits through the use of Artificial Intelligence. We found these claims to be a bit exaggerated.
Both of the apps offer real-time coaching where you turn the app on and it follows your movements and shows you a 3-D model of teeth. The objective is to clean your teeth well enough to get a high score from the algorithm.
However, in our experience, these coaches are far from perfect, and we wouldn’t even call them AI. For them to truly be “smart” or AI, they would need to adjust and adapt to your specific brushing habits and technique and be able to personalize the experience. But these apps only offer generic suggestions that do not really help to improve. We might recommend them for first time electric toothbrush users as a good starter tutorial, but they aren’t much more helpful than that.
What is worse is that this mapping technology is far from perfect. Both the Sonicare and Oral-B apps tend to lapse in their ability to follow where the toothbrush is, and sometimes give false positives or negatives.
Overall, we like the Oral-B app better. It offers better tracking and more options. The Sonicare app doesn’t even allow you to save brushing sessions without the app on and connected. So if you brush without your phone with you, the Oral-B will store those sessions, but the Sonicare will not.
One feature that Philips has over Oral-B is their brush head matching technology. Genuine Sonicare brush heads (series 2 and 3) have built-in chips that record brushing sessions to keep track of how long you have been using the brush head. In addition, on more advanced models, the mode of the brush automatically adjusts to the brush head you have attached. For example, if you put a W3 Whitening brush head on your DiamondClean Smart, it will automatically switch to “Whitening” mode. This isn’t a very useful feature because it saves you maybe a couple seconds of adjusting modes, but it is kind of cool to have.
In the feature area, we found that the Oral-B smart features and visible pressure sensors were more consistent and user-friendly than the Sonicares.
One of the most important features of a brush, aside from its ability to clean your mouth, is how comfortable it is for you to use. When you commit to brushing twice a day for 2-minutes at a time, you want that experience to be as painless and carefree as possible.
This is why we much prefer the Sonicare line over the Oral-B in this category.
When I first used an Oral-B brush, despite all my research about the noise and commotion, I was still surprised at just how jarring it was. The noise was incredible and the vibrations were so violent that I switched to sensitive mode after a couple of uses. Remember, this was after years of already brushing with an electric toothbrush. My colleagues, one of whom has been using an Oral-B for more than a year, felt much the same.
Sonicare brushes can be off-putting, too—especially for new users. However, they have a built-in break-in feature on most of their brushes which means they start out at a low level vibration and gradually get stronger over a week or so to allow a new user to become accustomed to the commotion of an electric brush.
Some people prefer the smaller round brush heads that come with the oscillating Oral-B brushes over the more standard rectangular ones that you get with Sonicare. For us, the Sonicare brushes were a bit larger, but we didn’t find this to be uncomfortable or challenging.
Sonicare brushes are also quieter and seemingly tamer than the Oral-B brushes. We like the styling and the feel of them as well. The lower-end Oral-B brushes (VItality and Pro series) really look and feel old-fashioned with their hard two-tone plastic exteriors. And even the higher end models look and feel a bit unpolished next to the much more modern and minimalist styling of the Philips brushes.
The new iO series is an attempt by Oral-B to modernize the line in both styling and functionality. While the iO is the best looking Oral-B model line, the noise and harshness are still evident even if they are a bit less extreme.
Both Oral-B and Sonicare offer many brush heads for users to choose from. The biggest difference for us is the cost. Generally, you can get genuine Oral-B replacement brush heads for about 3 pounds apiece depending on where you shop.
However, the newest brush heads from Sonicare can set you back for as much as 7 pounds apiece. You can find them for cheaper, especially the older models (Series 1 or 2), but they are almost always more expensive than Oral-B.
Oral-B also offers a few more options. They have 2 different general cleaning brush heads, 2 sensitive brush heads, and even a special brush head for those with dental hardware.
As we stated before, the newer Sonicare brush heads do come equipped with a chip and offer brush matching technology, but we are not sure if this is worth the higher price.
We hope that Oral-B is not planning to ditch their standard line with the release of the iO and its dedicated brush head line. These brush heads only come in two varieties: Ultimate Clean and Gentle Clean. They are large and have an angle-cut base, so they do not stand up on their own. They are also the most expensive brush heads of all at about 15 pounds each. But we won’t let this detract from Oral-Bs impressive lineup of available and affordable brush heads.
Depending on which Oral-B or Sonicare you buy, you might get an older model with a NiCad battery. This is a mistake. Always look for the Lithium Ion. They will last longer and give better overall performance for the life of your brush. In our research, we found more Oral-B models still using old battery technology than Sonicare.
In our tests and research, overall, Sonicare brushes have longer battery life than Oral-B brushes. In general, most Sonicare brushes will last more than 3 weeks on a single charge. Our winning brush, the Sonicare 4300 went for 30 days without needing to be charged. It is a general rule of thumb that the more bells and whistles your toothbrush has (we’re looking at you bluetooth!) the shorter the battery life will be. Most of the Oral-B brushes will last over 2 weeks, but they do not last as long as the sonic brushes.
We also don’t like how the Oral-B brushes drop in power when the battery is low. The Sonicare brushes will give you some indication that they need to be charged (a low-power light and a beep), but they will keep brushing at full power until they die. Oral-B, on the other hand, has made their brushes automatically go into power-saving mode when the red battery light comes on. This means that you might be in the middle of a session, when the power suddenly drops, and you have to finish with a weak brushing action. This can be a bit frustrating.
Most Sonicare and Oral-B brushes use induction charging. You place the brushes on a stand for several hours, and then they are fully charged and ready to go. Generally, this process takes half a day or so.
The iO series have a magnetic charging system, however, which means that they recharge in about 3 hours.
Overall, the battery life of the brushes we tested from Philips will last longer than the Oral-B models.
The accessories you get with your electric toothbrush are highly dependent on which brush you buy. However, the best way to compare in this category is to look at the two top models we tested, the Genius X from Oral-B and the DiamondClean Smart from Sonicare.
Both brushes came with a handle, charger, travel case, and multiple brush heads. The Sonicare brush also came with a tongue cleaner (which Oral-B does not offer), mouthwash, and a special glass charging cup.
To be fair, the DiamondClean Smart was more expensive than the Genius X, but ultimately, it does come with a more complete package of accessories.
We liked the premium Philips travel case more than the one from Oral-B. Both offer charging in their cases, but the Sonicare case comes with a built-in USB cable, while the heavier case with the Genius-X requires you to lug around the charging brick, which may or may not be compatible with the country you are traveling to. And for some reason, Oral-B offers a phone holder built into the case, but it holds the phone in landscape mode while their app only works in portrait mode. We still haven’t figured out why.
Here we are, the ultimate test of which company’s products are worth buying. But just because something costs less, does that mean it is of more value?
I have seen Oral-B electric toothbrushes at the drugstore for under 8 pounds. I bought one just to see what it was about, and it is basically worthless. It vibrates a little bit, and has a brush head that you cannot replace, so after 3 months, I have to dispose of it and buy another.
You can get a starter Oral-B oscillating brush for about 18 pounds, while the Sonicare price point is a bit higher, at around 40. And, as we said before, replacement brush heads for the Oral-B are less expensive.
So on paper, the better value is clearly Oral-B.
However, when you take into account that you want a brush you can use everyday that will clean your teeth well between dentist visits, the choice becomes a little more unclear.
Is it a value to have a cheap electric toothbrush that doesn’t offer the best possible cleaning and one you don’t really enjoy using? We don’t think so.
And when you compare apples to apples, that is our favorite Oral-B brush, the Pro series (2000 or 3000) vs the Sonicare ProtectiveClean 4300 series, the price difference is between 8-16 pounds. We think that it is worth paying a bit more for a much better cleaning experience even if the long-term cost of brush heads is higher. When it comes to your health and hygiene, it is worth the investment.
Overall, we prefer Sonicare to Oral-B electric toothbrushes; and if we sound a bit biased in our preference, it is because we are. This bias comes from careful, deliberate testing and retesting of these products at home and in our lab with multiple testers.
We think that most people will prefer using a Sonicare sonic toothbrush over the Oral-B oscillating brush over the long term.