Philips Sonicare
Philips

We’re used to holding advanced wireless technology up to our ears, but putting it inside our mouth may be slightly off-putting for some. Toothbrushes are no longer content to simply hold still while you brush — now they want to lecture.

When toothbrushes transitioned from folk to electric, the change was widely accepted by those looking to expend less effort with more results while brushing their teeth. Now they’re getting the smart treatment. It’s a process that imbues your standard electric toothbrush with AI, data tracking, wireless, unsolicited advice, and all the minty analytics that help make sure you’re brushing correctly. Because we didn’t listen to our dentists when they told us to brush slowly in concentric circles for about the length of the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love With a Girl,” the toothbrush feels the need to chime in as well.

What Is a Smart Toothbrush?

Often using Bluetooth and a system of sensors, smart toothbrushes track and collect data on your brushing habits and find out where you’re lacking in terms of how much pressure you’re applying, the length of time you brush, and whether you’re reaching every last tooth, among other features. They’ll typically display the data in an app on your phone, kind of like the annoying friend who counts how many beers you’ve had.

The Oral-B iO Series, for instance, beams out a red light when you’re brushing too hard and a green light when you’re doing just right, inadvertently preparing you for your morning commute to work. 3D mapping shows which areas of the mouth have been thoroughly cleaned via the app, and once you’re done brushing, the display on the toothbrush rates the length of time you brushed with a smiley, frowning, or a “That was OK I guess” emoji.

Oral-B Smart

This smart toothbrush will let you know if you missed a zone of teeth.

If your toothbrush bristles look like someone stepped on a flower bed, the Philips Sonicare ProtectiveClean 5100 gives a brush head replacement reminder, and the hum by Colgate lets you earn points to reward good brushing habits, a feature for those who need motivation beyond keeping all their teeth. A previous version of the Colgate smart toothbrush called the Plaqless Pro even had a plaque detector that lit up when that filthy stuff was in the vicinity, but that model appears to have been discontinued. Perhaps plaque is just assumed.

With all these advanced features, it’s important to distinguish what a smart toothbrush will not do: It won’t actually move the brush back and forth for you. It does not provide complete legal immunity from ever getting cavities, and no, it can’t pick you up from the dentist’s office when you’re groggy after oral surgery. Take an Uber or something.

Is a Smart Toothbrush Worth It?

So how can you ultimately tell the difference between a smart toothbrush and a regular, old-fashioned one? Easy. Your dentist will never give you a free smart toothbrush after a visit, only the cheap regular one. But there are other advantages too, I guess. It really depends on your needs.

If you’re a person who doesn’t trust their own brushing habits and needs a toothbrush that feels like a dentist looking over your shoulder and commenting every 30 seconds on your brushing method, a smart toothbrush may be a wise choice. Think of it like a Fitbit for your mouth.

The only issue is that much of this technology hasn’t quite been perfected yet, and one can find numerous complaints about many of them failing to accurately track the position of the brush in your mouth. Furthermore, since there isn’t a major difference between the number of features on an electric toothbrush and a smart toothbrush, the big increase in cost may not be worth it. Might as well just hire a dentist to brush your teeth for you.

Philips One by Sonicare

If you don't need Bluetooth but you want to stop doing all the work, get a solid electric toothbrush.

Until the tech and features improve, smart toothbrushes feel like one is creating an extra level of data entry and bureaucracy around the simple task of brushing. It may be best to just go with a decent electric toothbrush like the Oral-B Pro 1000 or Philips One by Sonicare, and try to remember good brushing habits the way you remember to cut your toenails or eat candy at two in the morning.

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Chason Gordon is a staff writer and editor for How-To Geek. His writing has previously appeared in Slate, Vice, Input, and The Globe and Mail, among others. He currently lives in San Antonio, but is on a month-to-month lease.
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