Which Toothbrush Should You Buy?

Consumer product reps are always welcome in dental offices. They always bring gifts of toothbrushes, coupons, floss, and fluoride. The most important item they carry is information. Recently, the new Oral-B (www.oralb.com) rep for Malden, Massachusetts, paid a call. Michael Garvey is a senior account manager. His job is to educate dental office staff on the advantages of Oral-B products. Oral-B’s continued dominance of the toothbrush market depends on Mike’s effectiveness.

Mike begins his presentation over lunch with a discussion of Oral-B’s history and mission. Dr. Robert Hutson, a periodontist (gum specialist) founded the company in the 1950’s. His design for a soft bristle toothbrush with smooth filaments is the basis for all of the company’s toothbrush products. Gillette, already the parent company of Braun, bought Oral-B in 1984. Braun and Oral-B began to work together to design powered toothbrushes. Today, Oral-B is the top retail toothbrush. The company offers a wide range of manual and powered toothbrushes, floss, fluoride products, and other dental hygiene products. Oral-B aims to produce the best oral care products for dental professionals to recommend to patients.

The most important question for a dentist is which toothbrush design to recommend to patients. Mike’s answer is simple. Oral-B feels that research shows that the power toothbrush is superior to manual brushing. Oral-B has always made articles available to dentists that demonstrate the superiority of their brushes. Mike quotes a new study by an independent, British research organization, “The Cochrane Collaboration” (www.cochrane.org). The Cochrane Collaboration reviewed many research projects that compared manual to electric toothbrushes. They found that the non-sonic style of powered brush made by Oral-B is proven more effective than other powered or manual brushes. (Robinson, et. al., The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005 Issue 3) The results of this study have been widely reported in the print and electronic media.

Electric toothbrushes are very profitable for Oral-B, and they inspire brand loyalty. Consumers who purchase an electric brush will have to buy replacement heads for that brush every two or three months. That means that they will not be shopping down the toothbrush aisle for the best deal. These replacement heads cost much more than a manual toothbrush.

Oral-B works to increase the demand for their electric brushes. First, they market a sonic style toothbrush to compete directly with their major competitor, Phillips Sonicare (www.sonicare.com). They do this in spite of the fact that Oral-B believes that their non-sonic toothbrush provides superior service. In addition, they upgrade the design of their contra-rotating (rotates back and forth) electric brush on an 18-month schedule. The latest upgrade, the Triumph, includes an LCD timer screen, three power settings, and a removable battery pack. Finally, they promote the new Pulsar toothbrush. The Pulsar toothbrush is a premium manual brush that has a small motor that vibrates the brush. When the Pulsar’s battery dies, throw it away.

Mike’s demonstration leaves the dentist with many questions that Mike cannot answer. The Internet, dental journals, the telephone, and experience provide answers.

A phone call to Phillips Sonicare results in e-mail from Arthur F. Hefti, DDS, PhD, VP Clinical and Scientific Affairs, Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc. Dr Hefti disputes the results of the Cochrane study. Sonicare’s most recent products were not included. The included Sonicare product, a more than 10 year old model, is in the same test group as up to 40-year-old antiquated models. Cochrane places Oral-B products in a different group. Finally, some of the members of the Cochrane group report that they receive some type of funding from Braun Oral-B.

Two independent American testing organizations have examined electric toothbrushes. Dentists respect Clinical Research Associates (www.cranews.org) for their thorough and unbiased reviews of dental techniques and products. Their most recent toothbrush comparison, published in July 1998, includes a manual toothbrush, concurrent models of the Sonicare and Oral-B electric toothbrushes, and other power brushes. This statement in their conclusion sums up their findings, “Non-handicapped subjects indicated a high preference for the [Oral-B] Advantage manual brushâÂ?¦because of superior control, convenience, ease of use, [and] low cost.” In December 2003, Consumer Reports published their study of electric toothbrushes with identical findings.

Most dentists recommend manual toothbrushes with soft bristles and buy such brushes for their patients. Many dentists advertise the quality of their office with premium toothbrushes. Oral-B, Butler, Lactona, Colgate, and other brands make high quality manual toothbrushes.

An electric toothbrush is useful for handicapped patients. Many find that the thick handle is easier to hold. The movement of the brush head, whether oscillating or sonically vibrating, can compensate for limited hand and wrist movements of some patients. Choose a high quality electric brush. The inexpensive brushes with heads that spin in one direction are not very effective.

Electric brushes benefit some children. Children enjoy the technology and may brush longer. Unfortunately, electric Oral-B brushes have one very unsafe feature. Remove the brush head, and a shiny metal spike sticks about an inch and a half out of the handle. It is easy to imagine what this spike can do if a little horseplay ensues.
What is the best toothbrush for you? The best toothbrush is one that you will use. Discuss your options with your dentist or dental hygienist. They will base their recommendation on your ability and your dental condition. Most importantly, they will teach you to use your chosen toothbrush effectively.

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