What’s the difference between a sonic and ultrasonic electric toothbrush?
Most of the brushes we review here at Electric Teeth are sonic, such as those from Oral-B and Philips. However, there is another type of brush to consider: the ultrasonic brush.
These are rarer to come across, but they do exist.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at the key differences between the two types of brush, and there’s an infographic further down showing the two side by side.
Sonic Electric Toothbrush
To be classified as a sonic toothbrush, the motion or vibration from the brush has to be quick enough to produce a ‘humming’ sound that is within the audible range of the human ear (20 Hz to 20,000 Hz). Sonic brushes typically offer 12,000-24,000 oscillations or 24,000-48,000 movements per minute.
Sonic brushes rely on a sweeping motion alone to clean the teeth, the movement that they provide is often high in amplitude which means they offer larger sweeping brush stroke motions.
It is the bristles on the brush head that move at this speed to essentially brush away food particles and bacteria that sit on the teeth and gum line.
Sonic toothbrushes should not be confused with ultrasonic toothbrushes which operate at a much higher frequency and use ultrasound rather than the motion of the brush head to remove debris and bacteria.
Examples of a sonic brush include Oral-B’s range of electric brushes as well as Philips Sonicare range. You can see some of our reviews here.
Ultrasonic Electric Toothbrush
Ultrasonic toothbrushes, unlike sonic ones, do not rely on a physical motion to clean the teeth.
An ultrasonic toothbrush is one that uses a very high frequency of vibration referred to as ultrasound to remove plaque and bacteria from the teeth.
To be classified as such, the brush has to emit a wave of at least 20,000Hz or 2,400,000 movements per minute, considerably more than the very popular sonic technology.
Within the USA, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) actually specifies a minimum of 1.6MHz or 192,000,000 movements per minute.
The high frequency waves, but low in amplitude means the bacterial chains found in the mouth that make up plaque are broken up by the vibrations and can work as far as 5mm below the gumline. Essentially speaking the brush can clean the teeth simply by resting the brush on it.
An ultrasonic brush compared to the more commonly seen and used sonic brushes does not need a physical motion to clean the teeth surfaces and gumline.
However many ultrasonic brushes do also provide additional sonic vibration ranging from 9,000 to 40,000 movements per minute, in order to provide additional sweeping motion which removes food particles and bacterial chain remnants.
An example of an ultrasonic brush is the Megasonex (pictured above).
This video from YouTube gives a good explanation of what an ultrasonic toothbrush is and how it works:
A brief buying guide: who makes the best ultrasonic toothbrush?
The market is dominated by sonic toothbrushes, notably those from the largest household brands.
There are several toothbrushes that suggest they are ultrasonic, using such words in the product title and description, but in fact they are just standard sonic toothbrushes, operating at up to 48,000 movements per minute rather than using ultrasound to achieve the cleaning.
At the time of writing we couldn’t find any of these brushes available with US retailers, but we did see them all on eBay — you can check them out on the following links:
So at this moment in time it looks like this is your best bet if you want an ultrasonic toothbrush.
If you’re not specifically looking for ultrasonic, but rather a ‘standard’ electric toothbrush, check out our post that looks at the best sonic toothbrushes.
Best Ultrasonic toothbrush
Many people ask what is the best ultrasonic toothbrush?
I have not had hands-on with any ultrasonic brushes to date. Yet, despite this, for me, there isn’t a ‘best’ brush.
This is because your options are extremely limited and in reality, sonic toothbrushes tend to a more logical purchase.
They are more readily available, generally cheaper and provide noticeable brushing enhancement over a manual brush, therefore making the need or justification for an ultrasonic toothbrush much more difficult.
To help summarise the key differences of sonic vs ultrasonic toothbrushes, we’ve put together the infographic below.