Oral-B brushing modes explained -

Which ones are important to have? | 3D vs. 2D brushing movement.

This page outlines the various brushing modes you have to choose from when you use your Oral-B rechargeable toothbrush. This includes:

  • Daily Clean,  Deep Clean,  Pro Clean,  Sensitive,  Whitening,  Massage  and  Tongue Cleaner  modes.

We outline what each of these different modes do. Which ones we feel are important to have. And explain the difference between Oral-B's 2D vs. 3D brushing action, and why having 3D is better.

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

A) Oral-B's 2D vs. 3D brushing motion.

When picking out a rechargeable toothbrush model, probably the most important thing you need to understand is the difference between Oral-B's 3D and 2D brushing action, and why it's so important that your brush has the latter.

We'll start off by explaining the 2D movement.


Oral-B 2D brushing.

Animation of Oral-B '2D' brushing motion.

Oral-B's 2D brushing action generates a back-and-forth oscillate-rotate motion.

a) 2D brushing action.

This is the more basic of the two brush head motions.

  • 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.

Oral-b 3D brushing.

Animation of Oral-B's 3D oscillating/rotating/pulsating brushing motion.

Oral-B's 3D brushing action generates a back-and-forth oscillate-rotate, and also pulsating, brushing motion.

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).

Sonic brushes were the first to introduce non-contact tooth cleaning.

Animation of the fluid-dynamics cleaning action of a sonic toothbrush.

The effect is due to the way the brush head pulsates.

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.

B) Oral-B brushing modes and settings.

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.

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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.


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