Oral-B Deep Sweep and Floss Action brush heads.

Oral-B brush heads.

Oral-B replacement brush heads and brushing modes.

a) Brush heads - Design differences. | Which style makes the best choice?   b) Brushing modes - Which modes are the important ones to have? | 3D vs. 2D brushing action.

This page explains the different brushing options that the Oral-B electric toothbrush line offers. This includes information about:

  • Brush heads - The Floss Action, Dual Clean, Precision Clean, Pro White, Ortho Care, Sensitive Clean, Precision Tip and Deep Sweep replacement heads.
  • Brushing modes - The Daily Clean, Deep Clean, Pro Clean, Sensitive, Whitening, Massage and Tongue cleaner brushing actions featured on various models.

[None of the information on this page applies to the Oral-B Pulsonic toothbrush.]

Oral-B brush heads are interchangeable.

As you'll see below, Oral-B has designed an assortment of brush heads for their family of powered toothbrushes. And for the most part, it seems that they can be used interchangeably on all of their various toothbrush handles (the part that houses the motor).

Take advantage of this feature.

Brush head interchangeability is a nice option to have. It means you're not tied to just using the one style that originally came with your brush handle. You can swap it out with any other design when you buy replacements. (So, when looking for a new electric toothbrush, just go ahead and buy the model that's on sale.)

Even during a single brushing session, you may find that switching to a second specialty head helps you to do a more thorough job. Or if you share your brush, you can each use whatever style brush head you find works best for you.

The Oral-B brush head line up.

Oral-B brush heads are generally round to oval shaped, rotary-motion brushes. The exception is the Deep Sweep which is shaped and used like a traditional toothbrush.

Oral-B Deep Sweep and Floss Action brush heads.

Oral-B Deep Sweep and Floss Action brush heads.

  • Floss Action - This is an oval rotary-style brush head. In our picture, it's the one on the right.

    We would expect that this is one of Oral-B's most effective plaque removers. A blurb on the Oral-B website states that the Floss Action is "clinically superior" to the Precision Clean.

    (Not that we'd really expect that you'd be confused on this point, but an asterisk on the Oral-B website reminds readers that the use of this head does not replace actual flossing.)

  • Precision Clean - This brush head is just slightly smaller and more perfectly round than the Floss Action (it's the smallest sized non-specialty head). The Oral-B website states that this is their most popular replacement brush.
  • Pro White - This head has a unique design. It has the same oval shape and same size as the Floss Action. But in the center of it's bristle arrangement is a rubber polishing cup (not unlike the one your dentist uses to polish your teeth, although smaller).

    We found this interesting. In one online review, the poster stated that they had sliced the bristles off an old head and were using the cup to do touch up polishing on their teeth.

    Oral-B literature states that this head is only intended for use by people 12 years of age and older.

  • Sensitive Clean - This is a smallish, perfectly round brush head that has extra-soft bristles. It's been designed to create a "gentle brushing experience" for users who have "sensitive teeth and gums." We noticed that this is the brush head that comes packaged with the "For Kids" toothbrush.

    This is the smallest "normal" style brush head that Oral-B makes. And while it doesn't take using a stiffer bristled brush to do a good job of cleaning, we'd expect that the Floss Action and Precision Clean heads are more efficient plaque removers.

  • Ortho Care - This brush head has been designed for cleaning around orthodontic wires and brackets.

    It has the smaller (same as the Sensitive Clean), perfectly round design. However, the twist here is that this head has fewer tufts of bristles and they're more spread out and smaller in diameter than on other designs. We can imagine how this would give them more opportunity to splay out and reach in between and clean around obstacles.

  • Deep Sweep - Different than all of the other brush heads in this list, this one has a shape that's similar to a normal toothbrush.

    As you can see in our picture, the Deep Sweep is relatively large (the other head shown in the picture is the Floss Action, which has the largest size of any of Oral-B's rotary brushes). A smaller "compact" version of the Deep Sweep is not available.

    When it's running, every other row of bristles (including those at the tip) sweep up and down. (The white and lighter blue bristles in the picture above are the ones that move.)

    We've seen published researched that favorably compared the use of the Deep Sweep to a Sonicare toothbrush. But we have no information about how it compares to other Oral-B heads.

  • Precision Tip - This is Oral-B's smallest brush head. It only has 4 tufts of bristles that come together to form a point.

    This is a very unique brush and we can see how it could be ideal for cleaning difficult areas, such as spaces between teeth or under bridgework. When we searched for this head online, fewer retailers were selling it than the other styles. But it was available.

  • Dual Clean - The dual clean has two moving brush heads. A top one that has Oral-B's standard rotary action and a lower one that swivels back and forth.

    We're not especially big fans of this head. For example, we don't see how you could use the swivel portion to clean the teeth furthest back in your mouth. The whole design just seems to be a gimmick.

    Interestingly, when the Dual Clean is mounted on a Vitality handle, Oral-B states its fully charged battery should last for "5 days" of use. When any other (single-head) brush is mounted, they state "2 weeks." Evidently when you use this head it makes your toothbrush's motor work harder.

Which type of brush head design should you choose?

When trying to figure this out, you need to determine whether you want to brush with a round head or one that's more like a regular toothbrush.

The primary difference between the two is that Oral-B rotary heads are used with a brushing style where you focus primarily on one tooth at a time. That may be different than what you're used to and you may not want to change.

Which brush head style should you choose?

In terms of brushing efficiency ...

For the average user, age 12 or older:

  • From a standpoint of effectiveness and brushing (plaque removing) efficiency, we would anticipate that either the Floss Action or Deep Sweep heads probably make the best choice.
  • For people with braces, the Ortho Care makes the obvious choice. But only for those teeth or tooth surfaces that actually have braces on them.
  • For people with difficult to clean locations, the Precision Tip may be the only brush head design that can actually reach into those areas. A regular-style head should be used for the remainder of their teeth.
  • We'd expect that the Pro White makes the best choice only for periodic use (times when there is tooth surface stain that needs to be removed).

    The Deep Sweep and Floss Action heads are probably better plaque removers, and therefore with daily use are more effective in removing the debris that ultimately accumulates and becomes surface stain.

  • In terms of plaque removing efficiency, we'd only choose the Sensitive Clean if using a Floss Action or Deep Sweep head proves problematic.

(Compare Sonicare brush head prices at Walmart.com.)

If you want to evaluate brush heads first hand.

We've run across two retailers (Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target) that tend to have Oral-B models, as well as other electrics, on display. And since different models come with various brush heads, you'll have an assortment of designs to touch and evaluate first hand. (Note: The display models don't actually run. In our local area, Target had the wider selection of Oral-B's out.)

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Brush head replacement.

Oral-B's standard recommendation.

Oral-B literature states that brush heads should be replaced at 3 month intervals.

Indicator bristles.

Most Oral-B brush heads feature blue indicator bristles that fade in color with use, thus indicating when the head should be replaced.

Brush head FYI.

Another evaluation is to simply compare the bristles of the head you're using to a new one to see if they seem noticeably splayed or damaged. Brushing with too much pressure tends to wear out brush heads quicker.

Oral-B brushing modes and settings.

Some Oral-B powered toothbrushes offer an array of brushing modes. And which ones your model has and which ones you use really does make a difference because some are more effective plaque removers than others. Here's what you need to know.

3D vs. 2D brushing.

The most important thing you need to know about Oral-B brushing actions is the difference between 3D and 2D brush movement.

A '2D' rotary electric toothbrush's motion.

Rotary (2D) brushing motion.

a) 2D brushing.

The more basic of the two is the "2D" movement.

  • This is a simple "rotary" brushing action. One where the bristles of the brush alternate back and forth as they scrub the user's teeth.
  • The term "2D" is used because Oral-B categorizes this as "oscillating-rotating" motion.

From a standpoint of removing dental plaque, this design is effective. But it can be improved upon.

An oscillating/rotating/pulsating powered toothbrush.

Oscillate-rotate + pulsate (3D) brushing action.

b) 3D brushing.

As an advancement in design, Oral-B engineers have incorporated a high-frequency "pulsing" action into their 2D brushing motion. They refer to this as "3D" movement (oscillating-rotating + pulsating).

Why is 3D important?

The addition of a high-frequency (sonic) pulsing action is significant because it agitates the liquids that surround the user's teeth and creates what's termed a "non-contact" brushing effect. This is an effect where dental plaque is disrupted at distances beyond where the toothbrush's bristles actually touch (yes, beyond).

The fluid-dynamics cleaning action of a Sonicare toothbrush.

Brush pulses agitate oral fluids.

Adding a pulsing action isn't really something new that Oral-B thought up. This is the same general idea that sonic toothbrushes brought to the market place in the early 1990's.

[Non-contact (sonic) brushing is an interesting phenomenon and we describe how it works here.]

Non-contact brushing has its limitations.

It's important to understand that the non-contact cleansing that a brush creates is only of secondary importance. Overall, the primary plaque removing ability of both sonic and 3D Oral-B's is due to the way their bristles directly scrub against tooth surfaces.

And we must also point out that the clinical importance of this phenomenon is debated and still being investigated and understood.

But we will point out that Oral-B evidently thought it was important enough to incorporate into their highest-end products. And overall, we think this is a significant feature to have and have made it one of the criteria for toothbrushes making our Best Oral-B toothbrushes list.

20,000 vs. 40,000 pulses per minute.

One last thing you need to know about Oral-B's 3D brushing movement (oscillating-rotating + pulsating) is that some models can generate up to 40,000 pulses per minute, where as others only 20,000. (In our all-models review we specifically state which type of action is created by which toothbrushes).

You can think of the latter as a lower power setting. And because at only 20,000 pulses per minute these brushes create less agitation of the fluids surrounding teeth, they produce less non-contact brushing effect.

For this reason, we think it's best to only consider Oral-B 3D toothbrushes that can generate 40,000 pulses per minute. And, in fact, for our Best Oral-B's list this was exactly the criteria.

Oral-B brushing modes.

a) Daily Clean - The most important brushing setting.

The default brushing mode on an Oral-B model is usually labeled "Daily Clean." And we think those two points alone tell you quite a lot about it.

  • As your brush's default mode, you can assume that this is the one that Oral-B expects will be (should be) used the most.
  • It's name alone implies that Oral-B thinks that this mode makes the right choice for the task of cleaning your teeth each day.
This is likely the only brushing mode you really need.

Daily Clean is the mode where everything we've discussed above comes together. This is the one where your brush just runs at full-speed, creating the best brushing action it can (either 2D or 3D movement, depending on the model).

And for this reason it can be considered to be your brush's most efficient and effective plaque removing setting. And as such, for the vast majority of users, we think that Daily Clean makes the best (full time) choice (to the extent that we don't see much need for using any other mode).

How Daily Clean varies by model.

As discussed above, not all Oral-B electrics have been created equal. Here's a breakdown of the different variations of Daily Clean mode that are featured by different models:

  • Daily Clean - 3D brushing motion, 40,000 pulses per minute. This is the best brushing action that any Oral-B product has to offer. It's found on what could be described as the mid-priced to high-end models (the 8000, 7000, 6000, 5000 and 3000 models in our all-models list).
  • Daily Clean - 3D brushing motion, 20,000 pulses per minute. This is a lesser version of the above. The 1000 models in our list feature this brushing action.
  • Daily Clean - 2D brushing motion (no pulses per minute). This is a primitive brushing action that's only featured on Oral-B's low-end models (the Vitality and Pro 500 brushes in our list). This motion creates no non-contact brushing effect, which is a big disadvantage.

As mentioned above, if your quest is simply to purchase the best Oral-B electric plaque remover possible, then you should only consider a 3D brushing motion/40,000 pulses-per-minute model

Other brushing modes:

The Oral-B electrics that feature 3D brushing motion with 40,000 pulses per minute typically come with some assortment of the following brushing modes.

b) Deep Clean mode.

This brushing setting creates a brushing action that's the exact equivalent of Daily Clean. The difference is that when your brush is set to Deep Clean the brush's brushing/quadrant timer is lengthened to 3 minutes instead of just 2.

Since brushing for longer is generally a good thing, if you purchase a brush that features this setting, using it usually makes a good idea.

Do you really need this mode?

We don't think we would buy a particular model just to get the Deep Clean feature. After all, anyone could duplicate it simply by using their brush in Daily Clean mode, and then once its 2 minute timer has signaled, just continuing on brushing (on their own, untimed) for an additional 1 minute.

c) Pro Clean mode.

Oral-b states that Pro Clean operates the toothbrush's head at a faster rate (higher frequency), as compared to other brushing modes.

Do you really need this mode?

It seems logical to assume that faster brush head movement would create a somewhat superior brushing action. However, we can't find any information on the Oral-b website or in their promotional materials that seems to promote or support this stance.

Since Oral-b evidently assigns no special value to Pro Clean, we won't either. We wouldn't buy a specific model just to get this mode. If the brush we were using had it, we would probably use it as a substitute for Daily Clean.

d) Sensitive mode.

This setting simulates the action of Daily Clean but at a lower overall speed.

This is not a mode created for optimal plaque removal. It's a second-tier, reduced-power setting for those who can't tolerate the action of their brush at its Daily Clean (or Deep Clean) setting. If you decide to use it, just realize you're not getting the full benefit of using an Oral-B electric.

Do you really need this mode?

It depends. Sensitive mode might be useful for people who need a "break in" period of a week or two when they first get their brush. Aged or debilitated persons may find this is the only setting they can tolerate.

e) Whitening / 3D White mode.

At this setting, the toothbrush alternates it speed (cycles of faster, then slower), which Oral-B claims helps to polish off tooth surface staining.

Do you really need this mode?

This claim seems to suggest that using a brush in a mode that alternates between full-power and a lower setting is substantially more effective that just using the brush continually at full-power (Daily Clean).

We specifically searched for research on which this claim might be based (both on Oral-B websites and published dental literature in general). We didn't come up with any information to share.

f) Massage mode.

On some models this setting is called Gum Care. It's another alternating speed mode. Oral-B says it's designed to stimulate and massage the user's gums.

Do you really need this mode?

If you're going to use this mode in addition to brushing normally with Daily Clean and also flossing, then great. But using this mode as a replacement for either could easily be considered to be a poor oral health decision.

g) Tongue cleaner.

A brushing action that Oral-B feels is useful for brushing your tongue.

Do you really need this mode?

Cleaning your tongue is important. However, we would think that you'd be better served by using the methods we discuss on this page.


Index - Topic Powered Toothbrushes.

  • What's on our Sonicare Toothbrushes Pages -
    • All Sonicare models - A comprehensive review of the features/prices of all of the current models of the Sonicare lineup. Some comparisons between each of the individual product lines are made.
    • The best Sonicare models - A narrative that outlines how to determine which Sonicare model makes the best choice for you. It discusses Sonicare features, which of these features we think are important to have, and which models seem to offer a reasonable manifestation of them.
    • How sonic toothbrushes work. / Effectiveness. - If you're wondering how sonic toothbrushes work and what's special about the brushing action they create, this page explains.
  • What's on our Sonicare Features Pages -
    • Brush Heads - Information about Sonicare brush heads, including: What styles of heads are available, in which sizes? Which heads can be used with which models? Comparative cleaning efficiency. How long does a brush head last? Screw-on vs. Click-on design. Standard vs. Compact sizes.
    • Sonicare brushing features - An outline of the various brushing modes different Sonicare models have, and what we think of each of them. It explains the importance of having the 31,000 strokes-per-minute brushing action.
      We also explain details about the Easy-start, Smartimer, KidTimer, QuadPacer, BrushPacer and Smartphone App functions (how they work, what we think of them).
    • Additional Sonicare features - We discuss Sonicare's UV brush head sanitizer in this section. We also explain features and issues associated with Sonicare battery types, charging units, working voltages, battery replacement and travel features.
  • What's on our Oral-b Toothbrushes Pages -
    • All Oral-B rechargeable models - A comprehensive review of the features/prices of all of the current Oral-b rechargeable models. Some comparisons between each of the individual toothbrush lines are made.
    • The best Oral-B models - Our narrative outlining how to figure out which model makes the best choice for you. It covers Oral-b features, which of them we think are important to have, and which models seem to offer a reasonable manifestation of them.
  • What's on our Oral-b Features Pages -
    • Brush heads / Brushing modes - Details about Oral-b replacement brush heads: styles, options, differences. An explanation of the different Oral-b brushing modes found on various models. The importance of 3D vs. 2D brushing action.
    • Additional Oral-b features - Information about the Oral-b Bluetooth/Smartphone app and the wireless Smartguide, as well as what we think of them. Also details about Oral-b brushing timers, quadrant timers and brushing pressure indicators, as well as charging units, operating voltages and battery types.
  • What's on our More about electric toothbrushes Pages -
    • Powered vs. Manual toothbrushes - Do you really need an electric toothbrush? This page can help you to decide. Advantages and potential benefits of electrics. What does research say?
    • Rotary electric toothbrushes - Types and brands of rotary-brush head powered toothbrushes (Rota-dent, Interplak, Braun Oral B). Pros and cons of their design differences.
    • The best electric toothbrushes for Senior Citizens. - Elder persons in different age groups, with differing situations, need different features. This page discusses the pros and cons of various models in meeting those needs.
  • References for this page.