Sonicare Electric Brush
Sonicare brushing modes and routines - Clean, White, Clean & White, 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, BrushPacer).
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 generates is due to the rapid rate at which its brush head vibrates.
With a Sonicare, that's 31,000 strokes-per-minute. (Some models state this as 62,000 brush-movements-per-minute, see below for an explanation).
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 (a brush whose head vibrates at a high rate of speed) can make this claim. This effect is an interesting phenomenon, you can read more about it on our page that explains how sonic toothbrushes work.
Which models have the full-power 31,000 strokes-per-minute setting?
- All current Sonicare toothbrushes do ...
- ... with the exception of the PowerUp product line that doesn't.
[PowerUp brushes only have a top vibratory rate of 15,000 strokes-per-minute. We consider that to be subpar and for that reason this line wasn't considered for our Best Sonicares list. Nor do we include it in our comments on this page about the characteristics and abilities of Sonicares in general.]
62,000 brush-movements-per-minute vs. 31,000 brush-strokes-per-minute?
- Sonicare started referring to the brushing action of some of their models as being "62,000 brush movements/minute" in 2016.
- We immediately took notice of how this differed from the usual reference of "31,000 brush strokes/minute."
We wondered if there was a difference?
Evidently they're pretty much the same thing.
After a fair amount of searching, we finally stumbled upon a Philips/Sonicare press release dated September 1, 2016 which when explaining about a brush included the words:
- "... features unique sonic technology that delivers 31,000 brush strokes/62,000 brush movements per minute ..."
Based on that statement, it seems that they are calculating from the standpoint that 1 brush stroke = 2 brush movements (one back, the other forth).
And in light of that, it seems reasonable enough to conclude that brushes having their action stated either way, at least from a practical standpoint, are very similar if not identical.
Just to make sure we weren't overlooking some technological break through, we searched (on 11/13/2016) PubMed.gov (the index of health-science publications run by the US National Library of Science) for various combinations of the terms: Sonicare, sonic toothbrush, 31,000, 62,000, brush strokes, brush movement.
We couldn't locate any published studies/articles (either by Sonicare/Philips or independent researchers) that documented (or even referred to) the benefits of some type of new 62,000-movement design.
Why is using the Clean mode setting so important?
Clean mode is important be cause it creates 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 (see below).
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 and use.
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).
How to find the "Clean" mode setting on your brush.
- 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.
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) - These toothbrushes feature a Sensitive mode.
- FlexCare Platinum Connected, HealthyWhite+ (plus), 3 Series Gum Health, 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 Connected, HealthyWhite+ (plus)
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) 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.
c) 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.)
d) 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.
e) DeepClean mode.
Found on this model: DiamondClean, FlexCare Platinum Connected
Description from user manual: Provides an invigorating 3 minutes of alternating
cleaning and massaging to deliver an exceptionally clean experience.
Our interpretation: 3 minutes of brushing action alternating between moments of Clean mode and a reduced-power mode.
Our comments: We love the idea of people brushing for longer. It's just that we think people would be more effective in their efforts by simply using their brush for 3 minutes in Clean mode alone.
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.
This feature could be especially beneficial for the uninterested or uncooperative brusher. And in general it seems that many users enjoy using it and consider it to be an important aspect of their brushing routine.
If the QuadPacer does not appeal to you, some models of the the FlexCare line (FlexCare+) allow you to deactivate it.
G) The BrushPacer feature.
The BrushPacer function is essentially the same as the QuadPacer. It's a beep-and-pause signal that comes from the brush handle. What's different about it is that it divides your timed brushing event into 6 divisions (back upper right, upper front, back upper left, etc...) instead of just 4.
While it can be used on its own (just like the QuadPacer), it's intended that you incorporate its use with the Sonicare smartphone brushing app (see next section).
The FlexCare Platinum Connected model allows you to deactivate the BrushPacer function.
H) The Sonicare smartphone brushing app.
(This feature can only be used with specifically enabled models. At the time of this writing only the FlexCare Platinum Connected had this capability. The Sonicare For Kids utilizes a different app.)
The Sonicare smartphone brushing app collects data transmitted from sensors located in the brush's handle to provide you with both real-time and historic information about your brushing sessions.
- As you clean your teeth, the app shows both where you have brushed and currently are brushing.
- It also registers if you have brushed each section of your mouth for long enough to have been effective. (Best form is to use the app in conjunction with the BrushPacer's signals and advance to the next section of your mouth every time it beeps.)
If it determines that a region has been underserved, it prompts you to return to that area and brush longer.
- The app also calculates and signals when your current brush head should be replaced. And provides historical information about your brushing sessions so you can review and learn from them.
In many ways the Sonicare app is impressive. And it's easy enough to see how it could be beneficial for uninterested or uncooperative brushers by way of adding a degree of discipline to their routine, or by simply making the act of brushing more fun. Also, people who enjoy high-tech toys will appreciate using the app.
But for those who already know what's important to accomplish when brushing and are adept at doing it, there seems little reason to go to the expense of purchasing a model that has this capability.
I) 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.
Both of these are built-in features and cannot be turned off or switched to silent mode.
J) Excessive brushing pressure sensor.
Most Sonicare models don't have a specific excessive brushing pressure indicator (like Oral-b electrics 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 when it comes to this issue.
Some Sonicare models do have a pressure detector.
- The brush handle of the FlexCare+ gently pulsates when too much brushing pressure is detected.
- The FlexCare Platinum Connected's handle signals in the same way. (On this model the feature can be deactivated if you like.)
Connected models also have pressure and scrubbing sensors that transmit a warning to the Sonicare phone app's screen that you're brushing too hard or with too much scrubbing motion.
[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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