The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Here’s one to get your teeth into . . . the cost of brushing
AN ELECTRIC toothbrush is an increasingly popular way to clean those pearly whites, but buyers must be wary of hidden rip-off costs. The nation spends £5.8billion a year on dental treatment. Much of this could be avoided by taking greater care of our teeth.
A £2 manual toothbrush can do a great job if used properly, but the British Dental Association believes many would benefit from healthier teeth by investing in an electric brush, which can cost anything from £10 to more than £100.
Damien Walmsley is a professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Birmingham Dental School and scientific adviser to the British Dental Association.
He says: ‘Independent research has found there is a 21 per cent reduction in plaque for those assessed three months after switching to a powered brush rather than if they had simply stuck with a manual brush.’
Plaque is the sticky film on teeth that contains bacteria and can cause gingivitis – an inflammation that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
Many electric brushes come with fancy bells-and-whistles such as timers, pressure sensors and even smartphone apps that help to keep tabs on cleaning habits. Yet these costly extras are not necessary. It is the brush action that really counts.
Jon Love, founder of consumer website Electric Teeth, has tested more than 300 different models in the past two years.
He says that once all the marketing hype is swept away, there are three main types of cleaning action to consider. These are offered by leading manufacturers Oral-B (Procter & Gamble), Philips, Colgate-Palmolive and Megasonex.
First, there is a so-called ‘sonic’ variety that uses a side-to-side motion and emits sound waves of between 20 and 20,000 hertz – in the human range of hearing – to attack plaque. Philips introduced this technology in 1992 and still uses it, as do rivals including Colgate-Palmolive. Then there is the oscillatingretails rotating variety, often known as the ‘2D clean’. This moves side-to-side but simultaneously turns in a circular motion. Some models also add ‘pulsation’ vibrations that make it become more of a ‘3D clean’. It is a popular option used with Oral-B technology.
FINALLY, there is the ultrasonic variety that has a vibration intense enough to emit waves of more than 20,000 hertz. Among those using this technology is Megasonex. Walmsley says: ‘Do not get too hung-up on which action you choose. The novelty effect of any new technology is often the most important factor as it encourages you to do a more thorough job on your teeth. But a small brush head is often best and use a timer facility so you clean for at least two minutes.’
Toothbrush tester Love says you can spend less than £30 on a brush that does just as good a job – or even better – than a £100-plus model. He says: ‘Among my favourite budget models is the Oral-B Pro 600. Although it retails at £50, there are often introductory offers starting from £25.’ Love says the Oral-B Pro 6500 has handy extras such as Bluetooth connectivity to give you real-time guidance to keep tabs on your cleaning. It retails at £190 but can be bought for £95.
For usability, he also recommends the Philips Sonicare EasyClean HX6511/50 that for £90 but can be picked up for £45. The latest Philips Sonicare DiamondClean at £120 is a good option for those who travel as it includes a strong carrying case.
Given manufacturers are keen to lure in new customers, there are often special promotions offered through online retailers such as Amazon and high street shops including Boots and Argos.
Love says: ‘The replacement heads are where companies really make their money. While the manufacturer’s own brand is going to be of good quality, you can save a small fortune by choosing a third-party provider.’
Oral-B electric toothbrush replacement heads can cost £16.99 for a packet of four. Yet manufacturer Molarclean sells a compatible pack of four for £6.95. A bulk buy pack of 12 Molarcleans can cost just £13.90.
Other third-party branded brush heads that fit a variety of manufacturers’ models include Boots Universal Perfect Angle (£11.99 for four) and Superdrug Total Clean (£14.99 for four, with a current promotion reducing the price to £7.42).
As a rule of thumb, the head for an electric toothbrush should be changed every three months, so using cheaper brands can easily save £12 a year.
Love says: ‘Third-party providers can work out great value, but avoid internet sold counterfeits branded with a maker’s name. These are usually easily to spot as the price cut is dramatic.’
Websites such as Electric Teeth offer guidance on other issues you should consider on top of the brush action. These include buying a model with rechargeable batteries that lasts at least a week before needing to be powered up again via a two-pin adapter in your bathroom. Cheap £10 models with a battery that cannot be recharged can turn out to be a false economy.
There is nothing wrong with sticking to a manual brush, but visit a dentist at least once a year and ask for their advice on the proper way to clean. Brush heads come with soft, medium or hard bristles. If unsure about which one to use, try a soft brush as too much rubbing can harm your gums.
Top-rated manual brushes include the £2.49 Listerine Reach, the £4.99 Colgate 360, the £4.00 Oral-B Pro-Expert and £3.25 Sensodyne Precision.