Sonicare Electric Brush
Sonicare brushing modes and routines - Clean, White, Clean & White, Polish, Gum Care, Refresh, Sensitive, Massage, Easy-start modes. -
As you scan through our review of Sonicare models and their features, you'll see mention of various brushing modes, routines and intensity settings, as well as some brushing timers (Smartimer, KidTimer, QuadPacer).
The problem is, just from their names it's difficult to know what each of these features really does, much less how important it is to have them.
That's the purpose of this page.
To give you an idea, we've looked through the user manuals for each of the current Sonicare models and have outlined the information they contain about the brushing options that they feature.
We've also searched through published dental literature, so to get an idea of what the importance of having various brushing modes seems to be.
(If we've over looked something that you'd like to know more about, leave a comment at the bottom of this page and we'll see if we can answer it.)
Sonicare brushing modes and routines.
A) Clean mode.
This is the full-power setting on a Sonicare and it's the whole reason why you buy one. This is the mode that provides the most effective, most efficient cleaning action. It's also the one this toothbrush line has built it's reputation on.
The unique cleaning action that a sonic toothbrush can generate is due to the rapid rate at which its brush head vibrates. With Sonicares, it's 31,000 strokes-per-minute.
The cleaning action is composed of two parts:
- The bristles of the brush scrub dental plaque from the surface of the teeth.
(Of course, every toothbrush does this. However, at it's high rate of speed, a sonic toothbrush's brushing action is very effective and efficient.)
- This same vibratory motion also creates "fluid dynamics," a phenomenon where the liquids surrounding the teeth (water, saliva) are agitated to the extent that they're able to disrupt dental plaque colonies beyond where the bristles of the brush actually touch.
Only a sonic toothbrush can make this latter claim. This effect is an interesting phenomenon, you can read more about how it works here.
Which models have the full-power, 31,000 strokes-per-minute setting?
- All current Sonicare models do ...
- ... with the exception of the PowerUp product line which doesn't.
[This brush, which runs on off-the-shelf AA batteries, only has a top vibratory rate of 15,000 strokes-per-minute. Due to this reduced function, this brush didn't make our Best Sonicares list. Nor do we include it in our comments on this page about the characteristics and abilities of Sonicares in general.
- On most Sonicare models, "Clean" mode is used to refer to the brush's full-power setting.
- On brushes that feature multiple brushing modes, Clean is typically the "standard" or default setting.
- On Sonicares that only have a single brushing speed, it's Clean mode.
Why is the Clean setting so important?
This mode creates a Sonicare's most effective, most efficient brushing action. And you don't have to just take our word for it. Here's the way this option is described in various Sonicare user manuals.
- Clean mode is "the Ultimate in plaque removal." - The DiamondClean and FlexCare Platinum user manuals.
- Clean mode is the "standard mode for superior teeth cleaning." - The HealthyWhite user manual.
As further evidence that Philips Sonicare considers Clean mode to be its best brushing action, the user manuals for some of the models that have multiple modes (the FlexCare Platinum, FlexCare+ (plus), HealthyWhite), it's clearly stated that:
- "When the Sonicare is used in clinical studies, the default 2-minute Clean mode must be selected."
Yes, when studies that evaluate the effectiveness of Sonicare products are performed, Philips Sonicare wants it known that they expect their products to be used at their most effective setting (Clean), and not one of their novelty modes.
And, in fact, we've never encountered any research published in dental literature that evaluated the effectiveness of Sonicare toothbrushes that used one of their novelty brushing modes as the basis of comparison.
Instead, what we've found is studies like those listed below:
- Klukowska 2014 (FlexCare Platinum - Clean mode), Goyal 2012 (Essence - Clean mode), Willaims 2009 (FlexCare - Clean mode), Biesbrock 2008 (FlexCare - Clean mode), Taschner 2012 (Sonicare for Kids - "High" amplitude), Milleman 2007 (FlexCare - Clean mode), Schaeken 2007 (FlexCare - Clean mode). [reference sources]
What's our point?
a) Clean mode is the most important one to have.
Everything discussed above simply leads us to the opinion that for the vast majority of users, their Sonicare's full-power, 31,000 brush-strokes-per-minute setting makes the best choice because it's their toothbrush's most efficient and effective mode. (All models have this setting except the PowerUp line.)
b) We don't see the need for other brushing modes.
And due to that opinion, it's hard for us to see the benefit (improvement, superiority, advantage) of the additional novelty brushing modes that some models have. The sole exception possibly being "sensitive" mode (discussed in our next section).
B) Sensitive mode.
Some Sonicare models offer a reduced-power or "sensitive" brushing setting. This is the only additional Sonicare mode or brushing routine we can fathom a need for. And even then, only for a special subset of users.
What's the purpose of this feature?
Some people may find that the standard, full-power brushing action of their brush is too vigorous or intense. As a result, it may be:
- Uncomfortable to their teeth or gums.
- Generally too overwhelming. (This is sometimes a problem for medically debilitated or elderly persons.)
- Simply "tickles" too much.
If so, using a reduced-power setting may provide a solution.
The trade-off of using Sensitive mode.
When a lower-power, "sensitive" setting is selected, the toothbrush vibrates with less intensity, thus making the brushing session less efficient and effective.
That makes choosing this setting a make-do solution, rather than a first choice. Whenever possible, the user is always better served by using their Sonicare in its full-power (Clean) mode.
Which brushes have a sensitive setting?
- DiamondClean, FlexCare+ (plus), HealthyWhite - These toothbrushes feature a Sensitive mode.
- FlexCare Platinum, Sonicare for Kids - These brushes don't have a Sensitive setting per se but have higher and lower intensity settings.
C) The Easy-start feature.
As just explained, some people may find the full-power setting of their new sonic toothbrush too uncomfortable or foreign to want to use.
In these instances, it may be that the person simply needs a break-in period. One during which they can gradually get accustom to using their new brush.
As a way of providing for this type of transition, Philips Sonicare has developed a feature they call Easy-start.
When this option is selected, a routine is begun where the brush will automatically and gradually raise the power (intensity) of its brushing action step-by-step over the user's next twelve to fourteen brushing events (depending on the model).
How does Easy-start help?
- Most people probably benefit from using this option as an introductory period during which they become accustom to the tickling sensation associated with using their new brush.
- For others, the current ill health of their gum tissue may lie at the root of their problem.
If so, the Easy-start function provides a period over which a user's sensitive, inflamed gums have a chance to heal (due to improved brushing with their new brush) in tandem with the gradual speed up of their brush to full power.
Which brushes have the Easy-start feature?
All current Sonicare models seem to offer this option.
Just so you know.
D) Novelty brushing modes.
Some of the higher-end Sonicare models come with additional brushing modes or "routines."
These are the type of features that we generally have difficulty in finding a need for. When we read their descriptions, we always end up thinking the same things:
- How is using this mode better than just using the brush at it's most effective (Clean, full-power) setting?
- If using the novelty mode involves brushing for a longer period of time (something that really does provide a benefit), how is that different from a person just brushing longer on their own?
Ask your dentist's opinion.
We'd also expect that these novelty modes have little to do with why your dentist or dental hygienist recommended the Sonicare brand to you in the first place.
Of course you should ask them, but we'd expect that it has much more to do with the findings of "Clean mode" research studies they've seen, like the ones we mentioned above.
Details about additional modes.
For your information, here's how Philips Sonicare has chosen to describe their additional brushing modes and routines in the user manuals of their products.
a) White / Clean & White mode.
Found on these models: DiamondClean, FlexCare Platinum, HealthyWhite
Description from user manual: Whitening mode of 2 minutes to remove surface stains, plus an additional 30 seconds to brighten and polish your front teeth.
Our interpretation: Whitening mode of 2 minutes (we assume this means using Clean/full-power mode since no other setting is more effective) to remove surface stains, plus an additional 30 seconds (we assume still using the full-power mode) to brighten and polish your front teeth."
Our comments: This seems to be the equivalent of brushing for 2 1/2 minutes using Clean mode, something any person can do with any Sonicare.
A pair of Philips Sonicare "data on file" publications seem to suggest that there's nothing really special about using Clean & White mode. The articles we are referring to are:
- Evaluation of tooth shade change following stain induction and Sonicare HealthyWhite use. - Putt M, Milleman J, Jenkins W, Wei J, Schmitt P, Strate J. Data on file, 2007.
- Evaluation of tooth shade change following stain induction and Sonicare FlexCare use. - Putt M, Milleman J, Jenkins W, Wei J, Schmitt P, Strate J. Data on file, 2007.
The findings of both of these studies (each of which evaluated a different Sonicare model) drew the exact same conclusion:
- ... the FlexCare or HealthyWhite (depending on which study's conclusion you are reading) ...
- "was shown to be effective in removing commonly observed extrinsic stain-forming pigments from tooth surfaces. An improvement of 2 Vitapan Classical shades was seen following 2, 3 and 6 weeks of product use."
The curious part about these findings.
Both of these models were shown to produce the same level of whitening improvement, but at the time of the study the FlexCare product line didn't offer a Clean & White (or White) option. Full-power (Clean) mode was it's "top" speed (just like any Sonicare).
b) Polish mode.
Found on this model: DiamondClean.
Description from user manual: Quick 1-minute mode to brighten and polish your front teeth.
Our interpretation: Quick 1-minute mode (we assume this is Clean/full-power since it's the most effective mode) to brighten and polish your front teeth.
Our comments: This seems to be the equivalent of brushing your front teeth for 1 minute using Clean mode, something anyone could do with any Sonicare.
c) Refresh mode.
Found on this model: FlexCare+ (plus).
Description from user manual: 1 minute touch-up for a quick clean.
Our interpretation: 1 minute touch-up (we assume using Clean/full-power mode since it's the most effective one) for a quick clean.
Our comments: This seems to be the equivalent of brushing your teeth for 1 minute using Clean mode, once again, something anyone could do with any Sonicare.
d) Gum Care mode.
Found on these models: DiamondClean, FlexCare Platinum, FlexCare+ (plus).
Description from user manual: Combines Clean mode with an additional minute to gently stimulate and massage gums to improve gum health.
Our interpretation: Combines (2 minutes of) Clean mode with an additional minute (of what we assume is a reduced-power mode) to gently stimulate and massage gums to improve gum health.
Our comments: Granted, some low-end Sonicare models don't have a lower-power setting you can switch to, so to exactly duplicate this routine. (Although, you could by a $15 half-power Sonicare PowerUp to provide this service for you.)
But before making this a very big factor in your list of toothbrush criteria, confer with your dentist or dental hygienist first to see if they feel that having this option is important at all. (We don't.)
e) Massage mode.
Found on this model: FlexCare+ (plus)
Description from user manual: 2 minute gentle gum stimulation.
Our interpretation: 2 minute gentle gum stimulation (we assume using a reduced-power mode).
Our comments: This seems to be the equivalent of using any Sonicare brush at its lower-power setting.
As mentioned above, if somehow you felt this was an especially important feature to have and you own a low-end Sonicare model that doesn't offer a low-power setting, you could gain this functionality by buying the $15 half-power PowerUp Sonicare to provide it for you. We'll also point out that only one, relatively older-style, model even features this option.
Wrap up - Our advice.
Overall, we think that the best Sonicare models are the ones where you don't have to buy features (like brushing modes) that you don't need. If you're interested in looking at the Sonicare product line from that perspective, read this page.
E)The Smartimer feature.
Sonicare's Smartimer function is a simple brushing timer. This feature takes the general recommendation from dental professionals that a person should brush for at least two minutes literally.
The Smartimer starts when the toothbrush is turned on. It then automatically shuts the brush off after two minutes of use. (With some models this brushing cycle can be extended to 2 1/2 or 3 minutes.) This is a built-in feature and cannot be deactivated.
It's OK to brush longer.
It seems to us that the Smartimer feature tacitly implies to a user that brushing for just two minutes is enough. As any dentist will tell you, that may or may not be the case.
Of course, some people (possibly most) need all the help they can get just to brush for a full two minutes. So for them, it's great that this feature exists. For anyone who wants to brush longer, it's a nuisance.
Using the Smartimer.
You'll need to read your brush's manual for specific details but generally ...
- While running, if you hold your brush's Off switch down for 2 seconds, when you turn it back on the Smartimer picks up where it left off.
- If you return your brush to its recharger, the Smartimer resets.
- As we stated above, there is no way to permanently turn off this feature, which is a shame.
F) The QuadPacer feature.
The Sonicare QuadPacer function is a pause-and-beep indicator that signals when one-fourth of the Smartimer brushing cycle has elapsed. (With some models, there are variations to this basic theme.)
The idea associated with using this feature is that it helps to insure that you've cleaned all areas of your mouth equally and thoroughly:
- The user needs to think of their mouth in terms of 4 sections (upper teeth outside, upper teeth inside, lower teeth outside, lower teeth inside).
- The QuadPacer indicator signals when they should move on to cleaning the next section of their mouth.
- Somewhere during the 4 cycles, the person obviously needs to make sure they've included cleaning the chewing surfaces of their back teeth too.
For us, The QuadPacer function has limited appeal (tooth brushing shouldn't be a timed race but instead based on doing a thorough job, no matter the amount of time involved). And if you're of the same frame of mind, this feature can be deactivated.
However, we can see how this feature could be beneficial for the uninterested or uncooperative brusher. Beyond that, we must also say that many users enjoy having the section guidelines signaled and consider it an important aspect of their brushing routine.
G) The KidTimer and KidPacer functions.
The Sonicare For Kids toothbrush offers some variations on the standard Smartimer and QuadPacer functions.
The KidTimer, similar to the Smartimer, is a two minute brushing timer. However, at the end of its cycle, it plays a "congratulatory sound sequence" before it turns the brush off.
Additionally, when this brush is set to its lower brushing speed, the KidTimer slowly increases in duration from 1 to 2 minutes, over the course of 90 days. The idea is that this slow change helps young children learn how to brush for a full two minutes.
The KidPacer feature signals (with a "short series of tones") for the user to move on to brushing the next quadrant of their mouth as each 1/4th of the brush's brushing cycle elapses.
H) Excessive brushing pressure sensor.
Sonicare brushes don't have a specific excessive brushing pressure indicator (like Oral-b models do). But their brushing action will stall out when too much pressure is applied.
Studies have shown that neither brand (Sonicare [McCracken 2009] or Oral-b [Rosema 2014]) places the user at risk of gum recession [page references]. And for that reason we don't favor one brand/design over the other.
Generally speaking, as you clean with any type of powered brush just hold it in contact with your teeth and let it do its work. There's no reason to press hard or scrub.
[Philips and Sonicare are registered trademarks of Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. Easy-start and QuadPacer are registered trademarks of Philips Oral HealthCare, Inc.]
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