Electric toothbrushes: How to buy the best electric toothbrush Electric toothbrush types

A couple brushing their teeth

Manual vs. electric toothbrushes: which should you choose? 

Lots of people prefer the feel and reduced effort of brushing with an electric toothbrush. There are several types in the shops and prices can range from £25 for a basic model to upwards of £200 for a high-end brush with extra features - so how do you choose the best one for you?

To help you decide which electric toothbrush to buy, this guide covers the various types available, how they work and the features you should look out for. But if you just want to find out which are the best brushes for thorough cleaning and long-lasting battery life, go straight to our electric toothbrush Best Buys page.

Types of rechargeable electric toothbrush

Rotating, sonic, pulsating, oscillating, counter-rotating… there are all sorts of electric toothbrushes available and they all work in slightly different ways.


As the name implies, rotating electric toothbrushes have a set of bristles that turn. Bristles can be arranged in a circle that rotates, or individual tufts of bristles can spin.

Oral B 500

Oral B electric toothbrushes rotate


These electric toothbrushes have small, round heads and are one of the most popular brushes in the Oral B range.

The head oscillates – rotates in one direction and then the other – around one tooth at a time to sweep away plaque.


Some rotating and rotating-oscillating electric toothbrushes pulsate to make the head more backwards and forwards against teeth while it’s spinning. This helps dislodge plaque.


These electric toothbrushes have the same head shape as oscillating brushes, but the tufts of bristles rotate in different directions simultaneously - with each tuft rotating in the opposite direction to those next to it.

Dual head

As the name implies, these electric toothbrushes combine two heads in one – one part rotates and the other sweeps from side to side.

The thinking behind these designs appears to be that more bristles and cleaning actions means better cleaning. But we’re not convinced – the large size of the head means it’s hard to manoeuvre it into tight spots, such as back molars.

Phillips Sonicare

Philips Sonicare electric toothbrushes vibrate

Side to side vibrating

Rather than spinning, these toothbrushes sweep from side to side at such high speeds that they vibrate against your teeth.

Philips Sonicare electric toothbrushes clean in this way.

Sonic and ultrasonic

These are brushes that vibrate at certain high speeds and frequencies to help break down plaque. Manufacturers of sonic brushes claim that they also drive cleaning fluid (a mixture of toothpaste, water and saliva) between teeth to help dislodge plaque.

We’ve compared all of the main types of electric toothbrushes you’ll come across in our latest tests. To find out which type comes top for cleaning check out our electric toothbrush test results.

Electric toothbrush brush heads

Rechargeable electric toothbrushes come with removable head that you replace once the bristles are worn. Replacements are pricey and worth buying in multi-packs to keep the cost down.

Most Oral B and Philips Sonicare brushes can be used with a range of specialist brush heads. These are designed to give a more specific clean, such as whitening or flossing. Newer Oral B Dual Clean and Trizone brush heads offer a multi cleaning action – different parts of the head move in different ways.

To find out more about the various brush heads you can buy and how they work read our guide to electric toothbrush brush heads.

Electric toothbrush power

You can buy battery-operated electric toothbrushes that use AA or AAA batteries. Check you can replace the batteries or you won’t be able to use the brush once the power has run out, making the brush an expensive disposable option that you will need to replace completely.

Rechargeable electric toothbrushes plug into a mains plug socket to charge. Most have a two-pin plug so you may need to buy an adapter plug before you can use it. They usually come with a charging stand that they sit on while they’re charging.

Electric toothbrush batteries

There’s a big difference in how long rechargeable batteries last. In our tests we found the best lasted over 100 minutes – that’s more than six weeks of brushing twice a day before you’d need to top up the power.

But others won’t last as long – we found the least-powerful brush needed recharging after just 19 brushes.

Some features can help your brushing technique 

Electric toothbrush features to look out for

Basic models have a standard brush head and one cleaning programme; higher-spec brushes can come with a raft of features and accessories that add to the price. 

You can find out more about the options in our electric toothbrush features section. Below are the features we think are worth paying more for.

Brushing timer

These ensure you brush for a full two minutes, which is the amount of time dentists recommend we spend cleaning our teeth.

Some are auto-programmed to only brush for two minutes so you don’t need to think about the time. Others will beep or stutter when it’s time to stop.

Pressure sensors

Harsh scrubbing to remove plaque is not necessary – in fact, pushing too hard against your teeth can do more harm than good.

Some electric toothbrushes have a pressure sensor – either a light or beeping sound - to let you know if you’re pressing too hard. Some Oral B models will stop pulsing and just rotate if you’re putting too much pressure on your teeth.

Soft-grip handles

All of the most comfortable electric toothbrush handles have soft grip which can make the brush more comfy to hold and use. Soft-grip handles also lessen the vibrations you feel in your hand while brushing.

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