Have a ‘Winner’ in the Battle Between Oscillating and Sonic Toothbrushes

By Timothy Hyland


The global market for electric toothbrushes is huge, and by all accounts, growing larger by the day.

Though they are markedly more expensive than manual brushes, electrics have soared in popularity in recent years. Total worldwide sales reached $2.2 billion in 2016, and one recent report projected that number will top $3.7 billion by 2023, with annual market growth of more than 8 percent.

That forecast comes even though the average price for the electrics runs anywhere from $15 to $100, with some setting consumers back $300 or more.

A big reason for the popularity of these brushes is their effectiveness: There is now consensus among the oral health community that electric brushes outperform their conventional cousins, with strong evidence specifically indicating that high-end brushes are more effective at removing plaque – and, by extension, help millions of users reduce or avoid the plagues of gum disease and tooth decay.

But not all electric brushes are equally effective.


The oscillating brush achieved a 65.6 percent reduction in plaque from baseline, as opposed to a 60.7 percent reduction by sonic brushes.


The market is currently split between two styles: oscillating, which clean teeth with an oscillating brush head or circle; and sonic, which leverage sonic technology to move their brush head at speeds many times faster than oscillating brushes. Both of these electrics have advantages over manual brushes, but there has been a significant debate in the dental community about which is ultimately “better.”

One recent study aims to provide some clarity in that debate.

A team of researchers from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Mainz, Germany conducted a randomized, blind study to compare the overall effectiveness of these two popular styles of electric brushes. The results, published in the journal Angle Orthodontist, reinforced the well-established view that all electric brushes excel at plaque removal. But the researchers also found that one style of brush outperformed the other.

Oscillating beat sonic in a head-to-head match.
Oscillating beat sonic in a head-to-head match.

The study, which was supported by Procter & Gamble (which sells both styles), examined 44 individuals aged between 12 and 25 years, all of whom wore orthodontic appliances on both their upper and lower teeth.

At the outset of the study, each patient was examined so the researchers could measure the extent of plaque coverage on their teeth; this established a baseline of plaque coverage. Then, for four days, each patient used either sonic or oscillating brushes at the direction of the research team. They were also instructed to conduct no further dental cleaning beyond the use of the brush.

At the conclusion of their study, the team found, as expected, that both the oscillating and sonic brushes performed effectively at plaque removal. However, they also concluded that the oscillating brushes “demonstrated significant superiority” over the sonic brushes: according to their results, the oscillating brush achieved a 65.6 percent reduction in plaque from baseline, as opposed to a 60.7 percent reduction by sonic brushes.

This work, they noted, should not necessarily come as a surprise, as some previous studies have shown that oscillating brushes also outperform sonics in non-orthodontic patients.

They concluded: “While the clinical significance of these findings is subjective, decades of research indicate that oscillating-rotating electric toothbrushes should be the first-line recommendation for daily mechanical hygiene.”

Author: Contributing writer Timothy Hyland has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, reporter, and editor. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Roll Call, Philadelphia Business Journal, and the Washington Times.

Also by Mr. Hyland:

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