TL;DR: get an Oral-B toothbrush (we like the Oral-B 1000 CrossAction Electric Toothbrush) if you're not looking to spend extra money on vanity. Oral-B offers the best value in brushing with near-identical mouth cleanliness as Sonicare.
So you decided it's finally time to upgrade to an electric toothbrush. It's proven that brushing with an electric toothbrush is better than brushing with a manual toothbrush, but when in the search for the right electric toothbrush, two brands rein supreme: Sonicare and Oral-B. Sure, there are other brands out there, but most consumers mull between these two top-selling brands, and finding the right brand is just the start of the struggle: Sonicare and Oral-B have a number of models under their belt, and each product offers its own sets of pros and cons. Regardless of the model, however, there are some big differences between the two brands, and we broke it down for you here. So, which is better: Sonicare or Oral-B?
Sonicare is the electric-powered dental hygiene brand of Philips. Right off the bat, Sonicare toothbrushes' elongated head and rows of teeth-cleaning bristles look similar to manual their manual counterparts. Sonicare toothbrushes employ sonic technology (fast vibrations, basically), and the bristles move from side to side.
Oral-B makes oral hygiene products as well as toothpastes and mouthwashes. Oral-B's signature feature is its circular brush head, which looks more like a tool that you would see at the dentist's office. The brush head on an Oral-B toothbrush oscillates, as opposed to Sonicare's side-to-side motion.
The biggest thing to compare between Sonicare and Oral-B is their different style of brush heads. While each each brand offers different types of brush heads — for targeting specific dental concerns — the basics of them are the same: Sonicare employs an oblong brush head; Oral-B uses rounded brush heads.
Brushing with a Sonicare is a little more difficult to maneuver in the mouth. It is built to feel like a "regular" toothbrush, but the longer brush head can take some getting used to when navigating across your teeth. On the other hand, Oral-B's smaller, rounder brush heads are easier for some to use, especially if they're new to using an electric toothbrush.
It's important to note that electric toothbrushes essentially clean in two ways: contact cleaning, which is when the toothbrush makes contact with your teeth, and non-contact cleaning, which is cleaning that's done without the bristles even having come into contact with your teeth.
As we mentioned, Sonicare toothbrushes use elongated brush heads, and its motor moves the brush head side to side. Sonicare also employs sonic technology, which is the non-contact cleaning part of the toothbrush. The sonic technology essentially recirculates toothpaste foam and water between the teeth and along the gum line to get your mouth clean.
Oral-B doesn't use sonic technology, but its movements accomplish the same things as Sonicare, though Oral-B does it through oscillation, rotating and pulsing. The result is what Oral-B calls "3D cleaning action," which dislodges plaque and agitates the liquid in the mouth to better clean your teeth.
We're talking about toothbrushes here, but design is still important, especially if your toothbrush is displayed out in the open in your bathroom. Sonicare toothbrushes, from the budget-level to the high-end models, have a similar sleek aesthetic with few extraneous details. They all look very sterile, and some models are available in multiple colors. They're weighty, which contributes to the feeling of holding something built well. Oral-B's entry- and mid-level models, like the Pro 1000 or the Smart 3000, don't feature a similar streamlined design as Sonicare, and they also look and feel a little more plastic-y. While Sonicare's toothbrushes have grippy bodies, Oral-B toothbrushes feature ridges to aid in grip, which also take away from the aesthetic. The higher-end Oral-B toothbrushes start to develop a better look, with a design that we argue starts to enter Sonicare territory.
Generally, Oral-B toothbrushes tend to be cheaper than their comparable Sonicare toothbrushes. Two similar models to judge against each other, in terms of value, would be the Sonicare ProtectiveClean 5100 ($70) and the Oral-B Pro 1000 ($50). The two models offer similar cleaning capabilities, with the Sonicare toothbrush costing a whole $20 more. Each brand also offers an unwieldy number of brush head options whether you want to target specific issues like troublesome gums or plaque buildup. Oral-B brush heads range anywhere between $6 and $20 each (though the more expensive heads are meant to be used with the most premium Oral-B toothbrush); Sonicare brush heads range anywhere between $10 to $15 a pop.
Purely from a cost perspective, Oral-B offers the best value. Their toothbrushes tend to skew cheaper than Sonicare, and replacement brush heads also run on the cheaper side. Studies are comparing the two brands in terms of teeth-cleaning effectiveness tend to contradict each other, so it's hard for science to definitively call one brand better than the other. Few, if anyone, will notice how extra rotations per minute or brushes per minute will affect their teeth's cleanliness, so don't get too caught up in the marketing terms that get tossed at your head. No matter which brand you go for, switching from manual brushing to electric brushing is an immediate improvement to your oral hygiene.