A Sonicare Prestige

Electric sonic VS manual brushes: here’s what I use

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Sonic toothbrushes are one of those things that sounded excessive to me until I tried it. Unfortunately, I am afflicted with weak teeth, and cavities come to me all too easily. My dentist peer pressured me into getting a sonic electric brush, and it made a huge difference in the overall health of my mouth. It also improved the feel of my teeth, giving them a polished and smooth finish.

What’s wrong with a manual brush?

The main problem with a manual brush is the user. You’re more inclined to push harder than you need, which creates too much friction. Friction over time leads to recessed gums, which is when the gums travel away from the teeth and usually don’t come back. This can lead to a person’s teeth looking very tall and narrow at the tops. If you don’t know what that is I’ll wait here while you Google it, but it’s quite unsightly and something you definitely don’t want. Worse, it’s very expensive and painful to get surgery to reverse it. To make matters worse, the surgery doesn’t always go well. I have minor gum recession but luckily was able to stop it from progressing further by switching to sonic.

With a sonic electric toothbrush, you hold it in place and let the vibrating do the work. You don’t brush yourself, as this would cause the same issue.

A man using a Sonicare, with the proper brushing angle
Image credit: Philips USA
Simply hold in place at an angle, then move to the next tooth

After using it the first few times, my teeth felt oddly smooth afterward in a way that I wasn’t used to. The same is true in reverse, when I forgot to bring it while traveling and had to resort to a regular toothbrush, my teeth felt almost rough. Now there is no going back for me.

What exactly is a sonic toothbrush?

Simply put, a sonic brush just vibrates very quickly. This is better than an electric toothbrush that just spins, or a manual toothbrush where you are likely scrubbing and brushing too hard. Sonic toothbrushes, when used correctly (don’t brush your teeth with it, just hold it against your teeth), are much better at preventing gum recession. Not only are they better at preventing recession, but they are also much better at removing plaque. These are the reasons why having a sonic toothbrush is a MUST, and also why I think they make great gifts for loved ones.

Word of caution: If you give one as a gift to someone, they will think it’s super weird and judge you, and then months later will thank you!

The standard for sonic tooth brushes is the Philips Sonicare line. They have been available for many years, and are generally what a dentist will suggest you buy.

What to consider when buying a sonic electric brush:

  • The vibrations per minute (VPM): this will tell you how powerful the toothbrush is. Sonicare standard is 62,000 across their models, or as they put it, 31,000 brush strokes per minute.
  • Battery life: Generally these will last for many days, which is great for traveling since some will last up to 14 days
  • Travel case: Many low-end models do not come with a travel case, and some duly function as chargers. I learned the hard way why these are important, as traveling with an early model Sonicare without a case caused damage to the spindle over time, rendering it useless
  • Waterproofness: Now that I said you should consider it, I’m going to backpedal and say you shouldn’t believe it. The one that I used to use in the shower only ended up lasting about 1 year even though it was rated as waterproof.  To their credit, waterproof ratings generally don’t consider soap and all the other stuff besides water that could get in there. Now I wipe mine off before I store it every time to prevent water from creeping into the casing.
  • Warranty: Sonicare has a two-year warranty.  For the first two that I owned, I got free replacements from them with almost no questions asked (I was within the warranty period). This made the cost much more reasonable over time
  • Longevity: Unfortunatley, this is not a “buy it for life” type of product. Generally the battery will go eventually, but usually in a manner where the time between charges decreases but when using it is still powerful. To make mine last longer, I usually wipe it off when finished using, clean under the head every few days, and use a travel case to protect it when travelling.
  • Repairability: This is what makes me a bit upset with Sonicare in general. If you take apart the Sonicare it has a battery that should be very easily replaced. However it is soldered directly to the board. iFixit rates this repair as “difficult.” I would literally take a cut in battery life to have the battery be replaceable, but it seems they would rather the device be a consumable so that you have to buy another one. For what it’s worth, the toothbrushes that use AA batteries give significantly worse results. 
  • Apps/Connectivity: I don’t actually use this functionality, so I’m maybe wasting my premium toothbrush. This is one category that the high end differentiates itself with. Some reviewers initially thought this was dumb but it ended up helping their brushing technique. If you don’t need this, you can save some money and get a similar performing toothbrush for less. 

With all of this criteria in mind I’ve gone with Sonicare, despite their poor repairability. Luckily, they may not be as expensive as you might think they are. This makes replacing them every few years a burden that most people can cope with. Their product line may make you think that you need one of their more expensive models, but you probably don’t. Let’s get into it:

Sonicare: the industry leader

I own their premium Diamond Clean model which is likely overkill for most people. I like the charging glass where you can just drop it into a glass and it charges wirelessly (the glass sits in a dock that is of course plugged in). Also, the travel case with a built-in charger is super convenient for me, but you can get this with other models.

An older Sonicare DiamondClean in its charging glass
Image credit: usa.philips.com
The charging glass is my favorite part of this model

The reason this is overkill for most people, and definitely for me, is that all Sonicares have the same number of vibrations. This is the only aspect that really matter to performance, as it is what cleans your teeth. The premium models come with different brush heads, but all brush heads on Sonicares are interchangeable. If you really like the DiamondClean brush heads, then go ahead and use them on any Sonicare!

My advice for most people is this:

Unless you need the apps and fancy charging options, go down the line until you find one that has a two-minute timer but doesn’t have Bluetooth or various other modes. You will most likely end up using the standard brushing mode and that’s it. Buying one of these models will put you into a price bracket that is very close to the non-Sonicares, so overall I recommend getting a Sonicare for this reason. Here are the models I recommend:

Best for people who don’t need a travel case:

This models gives you a super low price, making the tech accessible to almost anyone!

With this model you get a regular charger that’s meant to be left in your bathroom or wherever’s convenient.

The only downside really is that there is no travel case, so if buying this one be very careful with storage when leaving for extended periods. If you’re feeling sneaky you could probably snag a case separately from eBay.

  • Cheap
  • Pressure sensor/warning
  • Built in timer
  • Brush head replacement reminder
  • Two intensity settings
  • 14 day battery life
  • No travel case

For people who want a travel case:

This models gives you a price that’s still reasonable, just not as cheap as the 4100.

With this model you also get the travel case, but with no built in charger like the DiamondClean has. If you need a new one after a few years, don’t throw the case away! Assuming the design will still be similar, you could re-use the case with a different Sonicarea and potentially save a little bit of money.

  • Pressure sensor/warning
  • Built in timer
  • Brush head replacement reminder
  • Three intensity settings
  • 14 day battery life
  • Travel case has no built in charging

For people who travel a lot and want all the features:

There are two things I love about the Diamond Clean: the charging case and the charing glass.

The case makes travelling very easy, as it has a USB type A cord that you can attach to a phone charger or other while on the go.

The glass makes charging a cinch, as you just drop it in the glass and it wirelessy charges. While it seems a bit like magic, it can get gross if you don’t rinse it out frequently.

Also available in black.

  • Charing case that’s great for travel
  • The most settings, though I usually only use one
  • Pressure sensor/warning
  • Built in timer
  • Brush head replacement reminder
  • 14 day battery life
  • Very expensive
  • Charging case can get gross if you put brush in it while wet

There are models that cost even more, such as the Prestige, but I dont’ find there to be any noticeable improvements to validate the extra cost.

A note on cheaper replacements

One thing that’s an issue with the all of these that I mentioned is that they don’t last forever. While less of a problem with the cheaper models, this can really be a pain when you’re spending $200 on a toothbrush. However, if you keep all of your accessories (glass charger and charging case), you can buy just the toothbrush for much cheaper. Simply go to a site like eBay (I like them for other home things too) and search for “Sonicare DiamondClean handle” and you’ll see options for around $75-$100. Just beware that you won’t get any kind of warranty when going this route.


Having owned a lot of Sonicares at this point (3 over the last 10 years), I can personally say that they are worth the money. Hopefully I’ve demonstrated that you don’t need to get the most expensive models to get the benefits, but those models are great for those who don’t mind the extra cost.

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