It was hard not to notice the proliferation of connected toothbrushes at the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago.
There’s a veritable gold mine in peoples’ mouths, if the growing wave of these devices from the likes of Kolibree, Vigilant and even Oral B, among others, was any indication.
All of them are promising a better experience—and cleaner teeth—through connective technology. Tracking how well or poorly we’re brushing is, after all, the first step toward developing better habits.
Do these high-tech toothbrushes deliver on that promise, or do they fit into the category of extraneously connected gizmos that no one really needs?
I decided to take one for a spin to find out.
For the past week, I’ve been using the new Oral-B Pro 5000 SmartSeries toothbrush, which connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth.
It’s packed with features, including five variable-speed clean modes—daily clean, gum care, sensitive, whitening, and deep clean—and a pressure sensor that flashes red if you’re pushing too hard.
The brush syncs with a free iOS or Android app. When you begin brushing, the app starts a two-minute countdown, complete with a radial visualizer that turns blue as you go.
The brush also vibrates every 30 seconds, a reminder to move on to a different section of your mouth. Meanwhile, the bottom half of the app screen displays dental hygiene tips, news headlines, photos and videos in case you get bored.
When you’re done, you get reminders to clean your tongue, rinse with mouthwash and floss. Once all that is over with, you can check out your daily, weekly and monthly statistics.
The app also offers plenty of customization options. You can, for example, get rid of the mouth-washing and tongue-brushing reminders or set custom timers in case you want to brush longer or shorter than the recommended two minutes.
The “focused care” section of the app is a nifty feature that displays your mouth in quadrants. Here, either you—or more likely a dentist or hygienist—can customize which teeth should get more attention.
Last but not least, the brush also awards video game-like achievements, or virtual badges for meeting various goals.
The “Early Riser” achievement, for example, is earned for brushing on seven separate days between 3;30 am and 6:00 am, while “Professionally Approved” is earned after you’ve set up a focused care routine.
Most of the rest of the achievements, however, are dull, since they’re awarded for hitting longer and longer streaks.
So what’s the verdict?
I’ve been using a regular electric toothbrush for years and am religious about brushing twice a day for the full two minutes. I generally don’t have dental problems as a result, which means I don’t need something like the Pro 5000.
For brushers like me, the connected functions are entirely extraneous and even annoying, given that you have to bring your phone to the bathroom and fire up the app before starting. (I’m glued to screens all day, so I actually welcome the brief, two-minute reprieve I get while brushing.)
The brush does store your last six sessions, but connecting even every few days is still more unnecessary work than I care to do.
For people who aren’t faithful brushers, the connected functions could be even less useful. Anyone who has problems mustering up the willpower to brush in the first place is probably not going to want the additional hassle of connecting to an app.
The Pro 5000 could be useful for building good habits with kids, but the gamification achievements aren’t varied or fun enough to hold anyone’s interest for very long.
All told, it’s hard to justify the hefty $184 price tag on the Oral-B Pro 5000, especially when a cheaper, non-connected electric toothbrush can do the same job. Never mind simple $4 plastic toothbrushes. Ultimately, clean and healthy teeth don’t happen because of the toothbrush—basic, electric or connected—but rather because of whoever is holding it. That may not be something that technology can really help with.
Procter & Gamble supplied a loan unit for the purposes of this review.
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