The bonkers, bristly story of how big toothbrush took over the world
December 1, 2019 11:28 AM   Subscribe

 
I live somewhat near to the original Sonicare headquarters and the company was locally revered for being an excellent place to work as well as having an outstanding product. The Sonicare toothbrush was continuously sold out for months. After several attempts, I was finally able to buy one and, the first time I used it, the tickling sensation it produced was nearly unbearable but the results were amazing. My teeth felt so clean and smooth in a way I hadn't before experienced.

Since then I have worn out 5 or 6 of them and can't think of a reason to ever use something else.
posted by bz at 11:42 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Our family received electric toothbrushes about 10 years ago as a "free" perk of the kids' orthodontia.

Ever since getting that little two-minute timer, I've done a much better job of brushing, and I think the toothbrush itself does a slightly better cleaning job than I did manually.

However, I'm always stunned by how damn expensive the replacement heads are, even buying the store-brand ones instead of the Oral-B branded ones.

It's like razors and printers. They get you with the refills.
posted by Ickster at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Switching to an electric toothbrush straight up cured my gingivitis. #NeverLookBack
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:19 PM on December 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I used to use Sonicare and have tried Philips and some other brands. The biggest problem is they're a pain in the ass when you travel. Big, bulky, the replacement heads aren't universal, and I don't think they're dual voltage, though that might have changed recently.

Last year I switched to Quip, and it may be my favorite toothbrush ever. Also, it is excellent for travel as it's tiny, comes with a travel case, and runs on triple A batteries, which you can get anywhere. It also has the quadrant-timer popular in the more expensive brands. Best, every 3 months you get a refill of toothpaste and a new brush head in the mail. I also used to use Sensodyne for sensitive gums and the Quip is just as good. No irritation.

The only problem with the company is that a few months ago the delivery end switched carriers (at least in Canada) and I live in a building with lockable mailboxes which private carriers do not have access to so I have to go pick up my shipment a few blocks away. It's a bit of a pain and am questioning whether I'll renew. If they switch back to Canada Post, I definitely will, but I assume they're saving a few cents on every order this way. Frustrating.
posted by dobbs at 1:17 PM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Having a two minute timer built into my electric toothbrush made me realize I used to brush for a good 4 or 5 minutes before, so I actually spend a lot less time brushing now.
posted by furtive at 1:55 PM on December 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


how much more high-tech can toothbrushes get? How much more advantage can be squeezed from them?

I can think of one innovation which is not being able to feel my eyeballs jiggling in my skull and my hand bones rattling in my hand from these vibrations. I have yet to find an electric toothbrush that doesn't feel like torture to me (I am sensitive).
posted by bleep at 2:17 PM on December 1, 2019


I have yet to find an electric toothbrush that doesn't feel like torture to me (I am sensitive).

Many of them nowadays have a "ramp-up" period you can set that starts with more gentle vibrations, then kicks it up a little each time you use it over a couple of weeks or so. I also couldn't handle the full vibrations on mine, but resetting the ramp-up period let me get used to it.
posted by Etrigan at 2:32 PM on December 1, 2019


You can buy replacement heads for basically nothing through the online China marketplaces e.g. AliExpress. Just saying. 12 for $4.50CAD shipped kinda thing.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:40 PM on December 1, 2019


In the last couple of years of so, electric toothbrushes have found China, (or maybe it's the other way around?) The joke is one can only qualify as a bankable social network (Weibo, Wechat) personality after they run ads for electric toothbrush companies.
posted by em at 2:56 PM on December 1, 2019


The quip does not make my eyes rattle in my head.
posted by tofu_crouton at 3:33 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]



I had been quite skeptical of these (and the positive comments so far may even increase skepticism if you're not a current user) but after ~20 cavities in ~3 years (my former dentists at the dental school clinic couldn't figure out why and I couldn't either since my brushing and diet habits hadn't largely changed), I got braces and I was recommended to try out a 'powered' toothbrush and I've only had ~5-6 cavities in as many years since then (honestly, I only brush about 1x/day :/).

I've also wondered about their impact on the environment and the mild financial cost but that I've noticed such remarkable differences in my teeth, it was definitely worth it in the $ saved by having fewer cavities.

This reminds me, I've been meaning to buy more brush heads (as mentioned up thread, generic ones sold on aliexpress or am@z0n are far cheaper compared to the name-brand heads with comparable quality although one of the generic brands that I once bought were really shoddy) but have been trying to layoff buying from the am@z0n, I guess I should just suck that up and pay the extra $10-20 to buy in the replacement heads at the local store...
posted by fizzix at 3:38 PM on December 1, 2019


They are also very handy (with their used heads) for cleaning the shower grouting, cleaning my humidifier and my protein shake bottle and anything else that has recessed grooves or needs light polishing.
posted by srboisvert at 4:40 PM on December 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


My dentist urges me to get one, and I did (a Sonicare), but hated it and resisted. However, my wife loved it, made it her own.

Two years later and it's already going south. Makes weird buzzing noises while recharging and the charge doesn't last near as long. Looked into replacing the battery and guess what? It's a special proprietary high-voltage ~AA battery. This made me realize the toothbrush is a few months away from becoming e-waste, I hate that. Plus I may have to take it apart myself to remove that Lithium-Ion battery for proper disposal.

So I'm very interested in this Quip, dobbs. Even better would be one you just plugged into the wall. Why is that so difficult?
posted by Rash at 5:32 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


My wife and I also switched to Quip last year, and since then I need so much less scraping when going to the dentist for cleanings. My only gripe with it is that on mine the replacement heads tend to not stay on well.
posted by briank at 5:57 PM on December 1, 2019


Now, there are 41 different electric toothbrush options

I heard a few years ago that Sonicare basically makes one toothbrush innard, and disables the various features on the lower-priced models. It's cheaper than making a bunch of different motors.

Is this true? If so, is it limited to Sonicare? I do not know, but I so rarely get to spread toothbrush gossip that I'm going for it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


My dentist got me to try a Sonicare and I liked it alright, though the replacement heads were pricey, I liked the two minute thing and my teeth were clean. Then it died after a year, so my dentist got me a discount on a new one. Then it died after a year and a half and I began to think that they were engineered to die like light bulbs. So now I'm back to a brush and am OK with it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:32 PM on December 1, 2019


Many years ago I tried out a new dentist. In his waiting room were Sonicare ads. When I got in and he looked at my teeth? “You should try Sonicare.” In the take home bag? A Sonicare coupon. I was so put off that I nicknamed him Dr. Sonicare and did not return.

Cut to 15 years later, and my wife and I decided to try Oral-Bs after researching and Wirecuttering and the like. And damned if it didn’t do an amazing job on my teeth, far better than the manual brush. My dentist, who is not Dr. Sonicare, said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

Am I thrilled about buying replacement heads? Not particularly. Am I thrilled that it’s basically two companies doing this? Eh, that’s not great. Do I like my electr... er... powered toothbrush? Absolutely.
posted by hijinx at 7:11 PM on December 1, 2019


So I'm very interested in this Quip, dobbs. Even better would be one you just plugged into the wall.

I would not like that as much as it affects travel. Since it just takes a triple A battery (they ship you a new one every quarter with your subscription), you can just use a rechargeable if you prefer.

My only gripe with it is that on mine the replacement heads tend to not stay on well.

I would contact them. I do not have this problem. In fact, I sometimes feel the opposite -- that it's too hard to remove when time to change.
posted by dobbs at 7:36 PM on December 1, 2019


I'm totally satisfied with inexpensive off-brand replacement heads. I bought some Oral-B brand replacements at first, then after those wore out I bought a set of generic ones at a fraction of the price. I haven't found them to be inferior to the "official" versions in any way - they fit fine, last as long, and do just as good a job.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:31 PM on December 1, 2019


Obligatory British Sketch comedy link regarding what’s next in toothbrushes. Featuring Olivia Coleman. https://youtu.be/UgSORyrcHJo
posted by interogative mood at 9:52 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. I was considering getting a Sonicare when my years-old Oral-B dies, but the reports here are giving me pause.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:07 PM on December 1, 2019


Hmmm. I was considering getting a Sonicare when my years-old Oral-B dies, but the reports here are giving me pause.

FWIW, I've had the same Sonicare toothbrush since winter 2006 (!! - holy cow, I hadn't actually realized that until I just now thought back to when I got it) and it's still going strong. I love it and have had significantly fewer cavities since I started using it.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:18 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


My dentist recommends a dual regimen of both electric and manual toothbrush (because my teeth are genetically and environmentally rubbish), which may be a stealth plot to get me to brush for those two minutes. The advantage of it is only packing the manual when I travel. The cheapest Oral-B lasted me 9 years of single-person use before the non-replaceable battery stopped holding a charge.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:25 PM on December 1, 2019


Kickstarter > Be. The world’s first battery-free powered toothbrush.:
Be. stands for Beyond Electric. Unlike electric toothbrushes, Be. is more than just a vibrating head. Built as a kinetic storage device, Be. harnesses and amplifies the power of 2 simple twists into over 80,000 tartar fighting brush strokes using its patented multiplier transmission system.

Battery & Electric-Free - Brushing with Be. means no cables, no batteries, and no problems. Transform your daily brushing routine into a simple 3-step process: put toothpaste on the bristles, give the dial two full twists, hit the power button and let Be. work its magic.
...
A new twist on the electric toothbrush, coming soon mayBe. Related patents.
posted by cenoxo at 12:36 AM on December 2, 2019


I used a mid-market Sonicare and the clean feeling on my teeth truly was spectacular -- but the vibrations felt so tickly/awful, they made me dry heave on the regular and on a couple of occasions they made me straight up vomit. I dropped it on the tiled floor one day and damaged it in such a way so that while it would vibrate if you turned it on, but as soon as you put any resistance on the head (like, say, by putting the brush on your teeth) it stopped, and I was so happy to have an excuse to get rid of it. Honestly, it makes me feel much better to read other people had similar problems with the Sonicare because I was really feeling like my teeth or sinuses or something were somehow defective, given how everyone seems to love their Sonicares.

I replaced it with the plainest, cheapest Oral-B, my teeth are also still clean (maybe ever so slightly less clean? the Sonicare did do a really good job), and I don't feel like I'm going to barf while brushing my teeth anymore. I feel like I've successfully balanced both dentist happiness, and my happiness.
posted by sldownard at 2:16 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


cenoxo: "Kickstarter > Be. The world’s first battery-free powered toothbrush.:"

errr. That's these guys...
posted by chavenet at 4:39 AM on December 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


I was suckered in by a compelling set of social media ads to try the Burst toothbrush, and I'm semi-embarrassed about that, but damn if I don't feel cleaner than I ever did with my sonicare.
posted by mosst at 5:16 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


My toothbrush (like my watch) remains stubbornly analog. My dentist says “keep doing what you’re doing” - which incidentally is flossing on the regular. You can brush all you want but no amount of electric bristle is going to clean in between your teeth, and that’s where the cavities start (as my son found out to his dismay - he’s got a few little cavities starting between his molars)

The electrics seem to be big, bulky, designed to create e-waste, and I do very much like my Radius toothbrush - big fat replaceable head, soft bristles, and the travel version folds up inside itself into a super-compact lightweight package. It works for me, at least so far...
posted by caution live frogs at 5:56 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ya'll heard of flossing?
posted by lextex at 10:03 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ya'll heard of flossing?

Yeah, but a Waterpik though....
posted by davros42 at 10:21 AM on December 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


Two years later and it's already going south. Makes weird buzzing noises while recharging and the charge doesn't last near as long. Looked into replacing the battery and guess what? It's a special proprietary high-voltage ~AA battery. This made me realize the toothbrush is a few months away from becoming e-waste, I hate that. Plus I may have to take it apart myself to remove that Lithium-Ion battery for proper disposal.

All the planned obsolescence you can pack into one little handle! I took our last Oral-B brush apart & soldered in (what does the battery being soldered in place tell you?) a new Li-ion rechargeable, which worked for a while. It's almost impossible to reassemble the thing properly once you've taken the waterproof end plug out.
posted by sneebler at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2019


You can brush all you want but no amount of electric bristle is going to clean in between your teeth, and that’s where the cavities start (as my son found out to his dismay - he’s got a few little cavities starting between his molars)

Some would disagree, but not me. Just floss. Ever since I started flossing daily, my teeth have been incredibly good. And I have a history of bad teeth (I never flossed before a few years ago.)--3 root canals.

One of the big appeals of these electric toothbrushes seems to be an excuse not to floss.

I wish there were a more ecological method (I use Eco-Dent b/c it is vegan and has a little less plastic), but traditional brush (Preserve recycled plastic) plus floss works very well for me. The floss is the key.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:05 PM on December 2, 2019


One of the big appeals of these electric toothbrushes seems to be an excuse not to floss.

Hmmm, I've never heard that to be true...that linked toothbrush is an unusual one that has that built-in waterpik. Is that really something people think? That an electric toothbrush means that they actually shouldn't have to floss?
posted by mosst at 2:43 PM on December 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


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