Sonicare Electric Brush
Sonicare Brush Heads - DiamondClean, Adaptive Clean, Intercare, ProResults, Plaque Control, Gum Care, Sensitive, Simply Clean, TongueCare+ and e-Series. (Updated: April 2016)
While each of the models in our Best Sonicare list comes packaged with a specific type of brush head, each can also be used with at least one other type (style or size) too.
And in fact, if you've picked a model that uses snap-on heads*, beyond just choosing between Standard and Compact sizes (which is an important option in itself), you can even choose from as many as 8 different brush head designs.
(* Applies to DiamondClean, Flexcare, HealthyWhite, Essence+ and Sonicare 2 and 3 Series product lines. Does not apply to For Kids and PowerUp brushes.)
Does the type of brush head you use really matter?
Yes, it can. And certainly Sonicare (Philips Electronics N.V.) promotional materials seem to suggest that it does.
We will say, however, that there seems to be a lot of confusion associated with this topic and it's not so easy to sort out (hence we've written this page).
What brush head choices do you have?
The major offerings from Sonicare seem to be -
DiamondClean and original ProResults brush heads.
- DiamondClean - $13 - Featuring a central stain-removal pad of diamond-shaped bristles. Comes in Standard and Compact sizes.
- InterCare - $13 - Featuring extra-long bristles that reach further between teeth.
- Adaptive Clean - $15 - A bristle design that maximizes surface contact with teeth and gums. Comes in Standard and Compact sizes.
- ProResults - $10 - Featuring curved bristles (power tufts) that aid with cleaning. Comes in Standard and Compact sizes.
- Simply Clean - $8 - Designed with a contoured profile to better fit the shape of your teeth. Comes in Standard and Compact sizes.
- Plaque Control - $10 - A design focused toward "superior" plaque removal.
- Gum Health - $10 - Features softer bristles for gentler brushing.
- Sensitive - $10 - Designed for sensitive teeth and gums.
- TongueCare+ - $9 - A pad featuring 240 rubber "microbristles" used to scrub/clean your tongue.
- For Kids - $11 - (Can only be used with the For Kids toothbrush.)
- e-Series - $12.33 - Featuring a contoured bristle profile to fit the shape of your teeth. Comes in 3 styles: Standard, Compact and Sensitive. (Can only be used with the Essence toothbrush.)
How we formulated this list.
We selected this group of brush heads from the "Toothbrush Heads Guide" page on the Philips Sonicare website (April 3, 2016). We found all available for purchase online.
If you want to see these brush heads first hand.
We've run across two retailers (Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target) who tend to have Sonicare models, as well as other electrics, on display. And since various models come with different brush heads, you'll have an assortment of designs to touch and evaluate first hand. (Note: The display models don't actually run.)
About the prices we show.
Here's how we determined the cost-per-brush number shown above. - On the Philips Sonicare website we looked for product items that packaged the largest number of heads together (usually 3 but in some cases 2 or 5). We then divided the "suggested retail price" by the number of heads included.
Standard vs. Compact sizes.
There are times when having the option of choosing a large or small brush head (Sonicare uses the terms Standard and Compact) is an important feature to have (see below).
Models supporting brush head interchangeability.
Several years ago Sonicare came out with a click-on brush head design where it snaps in place over a rod on the toothbrush's body (we discuss the advantages of this design below). And to their credit, each major model that's come out since has continued on with this feature.
That gives owners a lot of latitude in their choice of brush head style. And per information collected from the Philips Sonicare website, it seems that the following models can be used with the following heads:
Click-on models -
- DiamondClean, FlexCare Platinum, FlexCare+ (plus), HealthyWhite+ (plus), HealthyWhite, Sonicare 2 Series plaque control, Sonicare 3 Series gum health, Essence+
Can each use these styles of brush heads -
- DiamondClean, InterCare, ProResults, Plaque Control, Gum Health, Sensitive, Adaptive Clean, Simply Clean, TongueCare+
In contrast to the above:
Screw-on models -
- The e-Series brush heads (standard, compact, sensitive) can only be used with older style Sonicares, such as the Essence.
Click-on models -
- For Kids heads (standard, compact) can only be used with the For Kids model.
Which brush head style offers the greatest cleaning efficiency?
One thing you can always count on is that Sonicare will sooner or later introduce yet another "new and improved" brush head. And enhanced brushing efficiency is one of the claims that's typically touted.
Which brush has the most efficient design?
Here's how Sonicare seems to rank the comparative effectiveness of their heads.
- "10x more" - Adaptive Clean (Standard)
- "7x more" - DiamondClean (Standard), DiamondClean (Compact), InterCare (Standard)
- "6x more" - Plaque Control (Standard)
- "2x more" - ProResults (Standard), ProResults (Compact), Simply Clean (Standard), e-Series (Standard), e-Series (Compact), e-Series (Sensitive)
(This information comes from the Philips website on April 3, 2016, from the "Specifications" page for each respective brush, next to the heading "Plaque removal." Or else from the mouseover pop-up box for each brush on their Toothbrush Heads Guide. For some heads, there was no comparative effectiveness claim: Gum Health, Sensitive.)
Our observations and comments.
#1 - In most cases the reported efficiency claim was asterisked, yet no explanation of what clarification this referred to could be found on the page.
One would have to assume that the basis of comparison for each head was the same, but we don't know. And in fact, for the Adaptive Clean there was an undocumented double asterisk, making it even more difficult to know if the number reflected a true apples-to-apples comparison.
#2 When looking at this list, there seems to be an awfully large jump in claimed efficiency between the lower and higher ranked brush heads.
While we don't know exactly what data these claims are based on (we discuss historic research and advertising irregularities we've notice over the years here), we did look at a large number of consumer comments posted on the website of a large online retailer related to the DiamondClean Standard head. We paid particular notice to remarks from people who seemed to have use other brush styles before (typically the basic ProResults).
Most did seem to prefer the results they got with the DiamondClean. But we'd be hesitant to think that from what we read that anyone was really suggesting that their experience was over 3 times better than their previous one.
Bottom line: You owe it to yourself and experiment and make your own decision about which head does best.
How long do brush heads last?
Suggested replacement intervals.
Sonicare's standard recommendation is that brush heads (all styles) should be replaced every 3 months.
In the past, the manuals for the Elite and Essence lines (older-style models that use e-Series brush heads) recommended a 6 month interval (now changed to 3). So, for whatever reason, Philips Sonicare designers seem to be working in the wrong direction in regard to this matter.
The blue bristles.
Sonicare has incorporated the use of blue "reminder" bristles in their heads. Their color gradually fades to white with brush use.
We will point out that Sonicare used the word "reminder" when naming these bristles. They're not necessarily a precise indicator. User comments we read that made mention of this feature typically stated that it indicated that replacement was needed before a full 3 months had lapsed.
A better test.
A better evaluation of brush integrity would be to just compare it to a new one. - Do the bristles look frayed and worn? Does the bristle arrangement itself look misshapen or damaged? After using it, do you notice a lack of effectiveness?
Other things to know.
Here are some additional points we've accumulated from reading various Sonicare user manuals.
- It's recommended that brush heads that have bent or crushed bristles should not be used. Damaged bristles may break off while brushing.
- If the toothpaste you use contains peroxide, baking soda or other type of bicarbonate (ingredients frequently found in "whitening" toothpaste) be sure to rinse you brush off thoroughly after use. Residual amounts of these compounds may cause plastic cracking. (The same goes for your toothbrush's handle.) Sonicare suggests using soap and water.
There is no question that newer brushes clean more effectively than older ones. This would be true for any type of toothbrush, manual or powered.
To quantify this for Sonicare brushes, a Philips "data on file" paper (Jenkins 2010) compared the plaque-removing effectiveness of new and used (3 month old) ProResults brush heads. They found that the new heads removed 28% more plaque.
Brush-head size is an important consideration.
Standard vs. Compact.
Sonicare sells some brush heads in two different sizes:
- Standard - These brush heads are "full-sized" and are generally intended for use by adults and adult-sized teenagers. All styles of heads come in this size.
- Compact - Some Sonicare brush styles come in a reduced-size Compact form also (DiamondClean, Simply Clean, Adaptive Clean, ProResults, For Kids and e-Series).
These heads have a smaller bristled area. In most cases, they're not an exact miniaturized version of the Standard design.
All of the toothbrushes in our Best Sonicare list (and we think all of the Sonicare models that you'll currently find for sale) offer the option of being able to use at least some type of Compact head.
Which size should you use?
As you might expect, Compact heads are typically favored by people (children and adults) who have a relative small mouth or generally limited oral access.
Additionally, those people with special needs, such as hard-to-reach locations or dental braces, typically find this size advantageous.
Size vs. brushing efficiency.
You might expect that Standard sized heads make the best choice for most adults. They may, but research doesn't necessarily seem to confirm this. (This is the part about brush size that we didn't know.)
#1 -We ran across a Sonicare "data on file" document (Putt 2010) that included an evaluation of the brushing effectiveness of both DiamondClean Compact and Standard sized brush heads. (We mentioned this study above.)
As compared to the study's reference brush, the Standard version showed a performance improvement of just 33% where as the Compact one 45%. Yes, the Compact brush was the more effective brusher.
#2 -We also found a published research study (Biesbrock 2007) that included the evaluation of Sonicare e-Series brush heads in both Compact and Standard form.
It determined that when compared to the study's reference toothbrush, the Compact style was more effective in removing dental plaque than the Standard.
You'll need to consider all factors.
Our point here would be that some experimentation with brush head size is indicated. Don't just use a Standard one because you think you should. Experiment and determine which seems best to you.
From reading consumer comments, it's our impression that people often prefer the use of a smaller brush head. But they frequently mention that they tend to wear out quicker than the Standard ones, thus making them the more expensive option.
Click-on vs. screw-on brush heads.
The newer Sonicare models:
- DiamondClean, FlexCare Platinum, FlexCare+ (plus), HealthyWhite+ (plus), HealthyWhite, Sonicare for Kids, Sonicare 2 Series plaque control, Sonicare 3 Series gum health, Essence+
Have a design where their brush head snaps into place over a rod on the toothbrush body.
This is in comparison to the older style e-Series brush heads (used with the Essence model in our Best Sonicare list) that have a large screw-on fitting.
a) Snap-on heads are more convenient.
If you have the situation where more than one person will use your brush, the click-on design is the more convenient of the two due to the fact that switching heads is quicker and easier.
b) Brushes that use click-on heads are easier to keep clean.
Due to their design, toothbrush models that use snap-on brush heads tend to be easier to keep clean than their screw-on counterparts.
With the latter, gunk tends to accumulate underneath the head's screw-on collar, between it and the toothbrush's body (entry is via two gasket joints where the stem of the brush passes through the head's casing and then also where the casing meets the brush's body).
Especially in the case where the brush head is seldom removed, the amount of debris that can accumulate can be surprising. In the reviews on retail sites, this is very common complaint.
There are some solutions for this problem:
- Placement of a silicone cover (e.g. Sonic Seal) over the brush head. It acts as a barrier to seepage.
- Removal of the brush head after each use and cleaning and drying both it and the toothbrush body (This is the most time consuming option.)
- Application of silicone grease at each joint may help to prevent/minimize leakage.
Why making heads or tails out of brush head claims can be difficult.
Sometimes it's hard to accept the advertising claims, like the one's above regarding relative brush head efficiency.
Research we've seen.
In this case, a part of this difficulty stems from the fact that the research reported has tended to compare Sonicares to other brands, or even just a manual toothbrush, as opposed to other Sonicare models or brush heads designs.
#1 -We did find a study (Milleman 2007) that evaluated the relative effectiveness of brushes using the (new at that time) ProResults brush heads vs. the e-Series ones.
It found the ProResults heads (a version that's probably similar to the current ProResults Simply Clean) to be marginally (4%) more effective. (A design difference between the two is that the ProResults is 10% wider.)
With just that level of improvement, the need to switch to a model that uses that type of head vs. just brushing a little longer using the older-style brush seems questionable.
#2 -We also noticed a Philips Sonicare "data on file" paper (Putt 2010) that compared DiamondClean (one of the newest brush heads) and ProResults (once again, a version that was probably similar to the current ProResults Simply Clean).
This information showed that both the DiamondClean Standard and Compact heads cleaned more effectively than ProResults, on the order of 33 and 45% respectively. That's a big improvement, and we're willing enough to take those numbers at face value.
The irregularities we've noticed.
There seem to be some inconsistencies in the way Sonicare has (at least historically) presented data about the comparative efficiency of their brush heads. For example:
- There was a version of the packaging for DiamondClean (Standard) replacement brush heads that clearly stated it "Removes up to 5x more plaque than a manual tooth brush (after 4 weeks of use)." And on this same package, it mentions the 33% improvement over ProResults we cite above.
- Another version of packaging for the exact same brush head clearly stated "Removes up to 7x more plaque than a manual tooth brush (after 4 weeks of use)."
Yet with this second version, we saw no claim of "new and improved" nor did we see a reference to the study that documented this claim (on the packaging or on their website).
As a second example:
- The "Find the right brush head for your toothbrush" section of the Philips Sonicare website displays a pop up when you hover over the sentence "Why choose DiamondClean brush heads?"
The box contains 2 sections, one each for the Standard and Compact versions, and both state "Up to 7x more plaque removal versus a manual toothbrush." (December 3, 2014)
- But despite this identical claim for both, Sonicare's own data (that we cite above, Putt 2010) found that the Compact version was the more effective brush (45 vs. 33%).
We don't necessarily doubt that Sonicare does have data of some sort to base their comparison claims on. But it seems clear that their marketing and research people don't do a good job of coordinating their efforts toward making this documentation clear and easy to believe.
[Philips and Sonicare are registered trademarks of Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.]
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