As a parent, it’s natural to want the best for your children – and this includes keeping their teeth as healthy as possible to avoid dental problems later in life. But children can be reluctant to brush their teeth for long enough or with the proper technique. Can a children’s electric toothbrush help kids to keep their teeth cleaner?
There are certainly many electric toothbrushes for children available, including ones that light up, play sounds, and feature fun characters. But despite the number of products available, some experts recommend sticking to a manual toothbrush until a certain age.
In this article we will examine the different sides of the ‘electric vs. manual’ debate when it comes to children brushing their teeth. Then, if you decide an electric brush would be beneficial for your child, you can continue reading to find out more about the different models and types available.
Our aim is to provide you with enough information to decide which is the best children’s toothbrush for your family.
Table of contents
- 1 How to brush a child’s teeth properly
- 2 Electric vs. manual toothbrushes for children
- 3 Choosing the best children’s electric toothbrush for your family
- 4 FOREO ISSA mikro and mini
- 5 Oral-B
- 6 Colgate
- 7 Philips Sonicare
- 8 Conclusion
How to brush a child’s teeth properly
Regardless of the type of toothbrush you choose, it’s only as good as the way you or your child use it. Get your child into good brushing habits when they are young and they will hopefully continue them for life, minimising their chances of developing dental caries, gingivitis (gum disease) and other oral health problems.
Your child will need help or supervision with tooth-brushing until they are seven or eight years old. Start when their first teeth come through and follow these tips to help make sure they’re brushing properly:
- Children, like adults, should brush for two minutes twice a day – one of those times being just before bed.
- Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride; at least 1,000ppm for children up to age six and 1,350 – 1,500ppm thereafter.
- Use just a smear of toothpaste until age three and then a pea-sized blob between the ages of three and six.
- Take care to spend time on every surface of each tooth.
- Get your child used to the hand movement of brushing by holding their hand in yours as you help them brush.
- Use a mirror so they can see which parts of their mouth they are reaching.
- Don’t rinse with too much water after brushing (this washes off the fluoride).
- Replace the brush every three months (or sooner if your child tends to chew on it).
This video shows some more simple advice for brushing a baby, toddler or child’s teeth:
If your child won’t concentrate for the full two minutes or it’s a struggle to get a toothbrush in their mouth at all, try to make it more fun for them. You could use an egg timer to time the two minutes, make up a song to sing, or put a poster on the wall next to the basin for them to concentrate on.
However difficult it is to keep your child still for two minutes, don’t let them run or walk around with a toothbrush in their mouth. If they fall, it could cause serious injury to their teeth or mouth.
It’s at this point that the different features of certain premium toothbrushes might come in handy. A children’s electric toothbrush with a timer will tell them how long to brush for, and they may even get the voice of their favourite cartoon character to encourage them. A toothbrush that pairs with a mobile app can also provide added motivation and make brushing fun.
Electric vs. manual toothbrushes for children
Entertaining features aside, you no doubt want to know what type of toothbrush is best for cleaning children’s teeth – manual or electric? First, let’s understand the two main types of electric toothbrush available: battery-powered and rechargeable.
Children’s battery-operated toothbrushes
A battery-operated toothbrush takes AA or AAA batteries which must be changed when the old ones run low. The lower the power becomes, the less effective they are at cleaning teeth.
Because these brushes are sold mainly with children in mind, they are usually designed with eye-catching colours and familiar characters.
These are the cheapest type of powered toothbrush and rarely offer the same power as a rechargeable one. However, this can be good for getting kids used to feeling the vibrations in their mouth. Starting them off on a stronger rechargeable model may put them off the idea completely.
The lower cost of a children’s battery toothbrush might be a false economy if you choose a model that doesn’t have replaceable brush heads. Replacing the entire unit every few months will end up costing a lot more in the long run.
If you’re unsure how your child will react to an electric brush, a battery-powered one is a relatively small investment to test the idea out. Many parents, once satisfied that their child will use it properly, may then invest in a more expensive (and effective) rechargeable model.
Children’s rechargeable electric toothbrushes
Some children’s toothbrushes are powered by the same type of rechargeable battery that’s used in electric toothbrushes for adults. The main difference is that the ones designed for children generally operate at a lower power and have more features to appeal to kids.
Some rechargeable toothbrushes charge via a docking base, which also acts as a toothbrush holder. Others have a USB charger which plugs directly into the brush. The duration of a single charge varies wildly from around 1 week with a Oral-B to six months or more with FOREO ISSA.
Older children may be able to take responsibility for charging their own brush when needed. For younger children, however, it will be the parent’s job to remember this. For some parents, there is a clear benefit to choosing a rechargeable toothbrush with a long-lasting battery!
Children’s rechargeable toothbrushes tend to have more features than their battery-operated counterparts. This might be a more advanced timer or Bluetooth connectivity, for example.
What do the experts say?
The Oral Health Foundation notes that certain features on children’s brushes, including powered ones, can encourage proper brushing. The most important thing, they say, is to choose a brush with soft bristles and a small head that is suited to the age of your child.
An article published in American dental magazine RDH refers to a study which found that children who used a power toothbrush had “significantly longer” average brushing times than those who used a manual one. This is probably thanks to their ease of use, entertaining features, and built-in timers.
Brushing for longer, provided the child reaches every part of their mouth, should result in greater plaque removal. To add to this, increasing numbers of studies are showing that powered brushes are more effective at cleaning teeth than manual brushes. They can also make it easier to clean the hard-to-reach back teeth more thoroughly, a study has shown.
On the downside, some experts warn that introducing an infant to an electric brush too early in life means they never develop the motor skills needed to brush manually.
As a parent, you might be concerned about the abrasiveness of a powered brush on your child’s tooth enamel and gums. This is certainly not something to worry about, though. Because it requires less pressure to be exerted for a proper clean, powered brushing can actually be less harmful to soft tissue than manual brushing. If your child has a history of sensitive gums, the FOREO ISSA’s soft silicone bristles could be worth a try.
Benefits of electric and manual brushes
The table below summarises the main differences between electric and manual toothbrushes for children:
|Benefits of electric||Benefits of manual|
|Better plaque removal||Develop motor skills for brushing motion|
|Encourage longer brushing||Cheaper|
|More fun to use||Still effective at removing plaque if used properly|
|Less pressure on teeth and gums||No need to remember to charge|
|Aid with developing good brushing habits||Better for children who don't like the vibrations of an electric brush|
It’s worth adding that even if you don’t buy your child an electric toothbrush with a timer, you can find songs and videos online to play while they brush. As long as you choose one that’s two minutes long, it serves the same purpose as a timer. The following video is just an example, but it reminds children how and where to brush as well:
Choosing the best children’s electric toothbrush for your family
If you do decide that an electric powered brush would be best for your children, you then need to decide which one to buy. The best toothbrush for your child will depend on:
- Their age
- Your budget
- The designs they are attracted to
- The features you think are necessary
All children’s toothbrushes should have very soft bristles which are gentle on gums, but it’s always worth double-checking this before you buy. They are also designed to be easy for children to hold – both in terms of the size and shape of the handle, and the materials used on it.
You should choose a brush head that will fit easily inside your child’s mouth and enable them to reach all their teeth. If the head is too large, they will find it difficult to reach their very back teeth and some of the surfaces inside their mouth.
Features you might find helpful for encouraging your child to brush their teeth properly include:
- A timer
- Lights that are activated for two minutes
- Songs that play for the duration of brushing
- Character voices to encourage longer brushing
- A pressure sensor warning if they (or you) are brushing too hard
- An app to use while brushing
Once you have narrowed down the options, you might want to let your child make the final choice (even if it’s just in terms of colour or character). This lets them feel more responsible for their toothbrush and – hopefully – for their brushing as well.
The following table compares the main features of some of the best children’s electric toothbrushes in the UK. Keep reading to find more detailed descriptions and reviews for each of these (and some other models).
|FOREO ISSA mikro||Oral-B Stages Rechargeable||Colgate Kids Battery-Powered||Philips Sonicare + Bluetooth|
|Suitable for ages||0-5||3+||3+||4+|
|Power source||USB charger||Charging dock||Replaceable batteries||Charging dock|
|Duration of a single charge||6+ months||5-7 days||N/A||4-6 weeks|
|Replaceable heads?||No||Yes (£11 for 4)||No||Yes (£14 - £16 for 2)|
|Design/colour options||Five vibrant colours||Disney characters||Cartoon characters||Interchangeable sticker designs|
|Other features?||Smile indicator, hygienic silicone material||Longer brushing with app||Designed to lie flat||2 speed settings; battery indicator; compatible with app|
Before purchasing any kind of powered toothbrush for your child, it’s best to discuss your decision with their dentist.
FOREO ISSA mikro and mini
Swedish company FOREO has a range of stylish and innovative toothbrushes for all stages of life. The ISSA mikro is suitable for use even before a baby’s first teeth appear – to massage their gums while teething. It can then be used for teeth cleaning up until about age five, when they might want to switch to the slightly larger (and more powerful) ISSA mini.
All of FOREO’s brushes are made from silicone, which is gentle on teeth and gums. It’s also resistant to bacteria build-up – and to the chewing which is so common when kids first learn to brush!
The brushes come in a range of fun, bright colours and use sonic pulse technology to help dislodge plaque from teeth. They are also completely waterproof so can be used at bathtime without any safety worries. Charging is easy via the USB cable provided and a single 1-hour charge should keep the brush going for several months.
Both the mikro and mini toothbrushes feature a handy ‘smile helper’ which serves two purposes. Firstly, it shows when the suggested two-minute brushing time is up by displaying a smiley face. Secondly, if the brush hasn’t been used for over 12 hours, the sad face lights up as a little reminder.
The mikro doesn’t have a replaceable brush head – this is a plus for parents worried about choking hazards but it also means you have to replace the whole brush when the head wears out. It also isn’t much use if you want several people to be able to share one brush. FOREO say their brush heads last for up to a year.
The mini does have replaceable heads which can be purchased individually. Although intended as a children’s brush, the mini actually seems just as popular among adults who prefer a smaller toothbrush head or have particularly sensitive mouths.
Is it worth it?
The thing that may hold you back from purchasing one of these toothbrushes for your child is the cost. At around £75-85 each, with a replacement head for the mini costing about £17, FOREO children’s toothbrushes are the most expensive on the market.
However, no other electric brush is suitable for babies and toddlers under the age of 3, so if you want to get your child used to brushing with an electric toothbrush from a young age, this is the one for you.
“My two year-old son is so happy when his toothbrush. He is definitely more interested in brushing better and longer. The best part is that it’s cleaner and holds a charge for eight months,” says one user who rated the mikro brush with five stars.
Other reviewers talk about how durable and hygienic the silicone material is – a feature which is currently unique to the FOREO ISSA range. And the fact that it holds a charge for months means one less thing for busy parents to worry about.
So, if you have the money to spend, you’ll get an effective clean with a few fun features to encourage brushing. The mini becomes more cost-effective if you plan for several family members to share the same unit.
The Braun Oral-B children’s electric toothbrush range includes both battery-powered and rechargeable models, all of which have a 2-minute timer. They mostly feature popular Disney characters from films including Frozen, Cars and Star Wars.
Oral-B ‘Stages’ battery-operated children’s toothbrushes are suitable for ages 3+. Their small round heads provide an oscillating movement to help remove plaque from teeth. The brush is relatively inexpensive but the heads are not replaceable so you’ll have to buy a completely new brush every few months. Still, it’s a cheap option if you want a simple children’s timer toothbrush.
Alternatively you can upgrade to Oral-B’s ‘Stages’ rechargeable toothbrush for kids (pictured). This brush is also suitable for ages 3+ but has replaceable heads. One nice thing about these is that the character design is only on the heads, so if you want to switch from Cars to Star Wars, you can do so without replacing the brush itself.
All Disney-branded Oral-B children’s toothbrushes can be used with the Disney MagicTimer App which, they say, gets 90% of children brushing for longer. The app gradually reveals an image as kids complete their two minutes of brushing. Over time they collect rewards to fill a virtual sticker album.
For older children
The Oral-B Junior electric toothbrush is suitable for ages 6+ but, due to its plain design, it may appeal to slightly older children and teens who want to do away with ‘babyish’ Disney characters but still want a fun colour. It is compatible with the full range of adult toothbrush heads for sensitive teeth, whitening, use with braces, and so on.
The junior brush pulses every 30 seconds to help children spend the right amount of time brushing each quadrant of their mouth.
With both rechargeable brushes, the charging base is the same as for adult brushes. This is handy if you have limited space in your bathroom and don’t want several bases out at once. They hold their charge for 5-7 days.
Colgate children’s electric toothbrushes are all battery-operated. The batteries are replaceable but the toothbrush heads are not, and as such they are disposable in nature. The brushes, like Oral-B’s, are plastered with cartoon characters such as Barbie, Spider-Man and Minions.
The basic model comes with no additional features – not even a timer. There is also an interactive Minions toothbrush which has a two-minute timer and the voices of the Minions encouraging you to brush.
Both brushes are designed to lie flat to make it easier for little ones to apply toothpaste before brushing. They can be used by children aged three and over.
One criticism of the Colgate kid’s range in some reviews is that the brush heads are too large.
“Brush head way too big for children in fact it’s bigger than my adult sonicare toothbrush. This makes it very hard to brush properly,” said one user.
It’s not the bristles themselves which make the head so chunky, but the depth of the plastic they are embedded in.
Although the basic model is one of the cheapest children’s electric toothbrushes around, it doesn’t present great value for money when you consider it doesn’t even have a timer and it must be replaced every few months.
Philips have taken a different approach to the kid’s toothbrush market with just one offering: the Philips Sonicare children’s toothbrush. Well, technically there are two different models available – one has Bluetooth connectivity to use with an app. These brushes use the same sonic cleaning technology as Philips’ adult range.
Philips have cleverly designed the children’s Sonicare to be suitable for different ages with its two speed settings and two sizes of brush head. With the slower speed and compact head it can be used from age four, with the faster setting and larger head more suitable for ages seven and up.
In terms of design, you aren’t stuck with gender-stereotyped cartoons; instead kids can choose from a range of sticker designs which affix to the brush handle. These let them personalise their brush and update its look now and again.
The standard brush (without Bluetooth) features a timer which plays a sound every 30 seconds until brushing is complete.
Philips say the battery lasts up to three weeks on a single charge, but many reviewers say it actually lasts more like four or six weeks.
If you go for the Bluetooth version, the brush connects in real time to the accompanying app to encourage children to brush thoroughly. Led by the character Sparkly, kids will have fun tracking their progress. Some parents have warned that the app is so fun, kids want to keep playing on it even after brushing is over.
Fortunately, the Bluetooth brush can store data from up to 20 brushes without connecting to the app, updating the record next time it is connected. This could be a handy feature if you have a tight morning routine and don’t want the distraction of the app every time your child brushes.
Both models of the Philips Sonicare for kids receive great reviews and seem to offer good quality and value for money. If you have children of different ages, this product could avoid the need to buy multiple brushes (as long as they can agree on which sticker to apply!).
The best toothbrush for your child will depend on your budget and their preferences. You’ll probably find they outgrow each brush after a few years, so they may switch from one to another.
The FOREO ISSA mikro is the only powered toothbrush suitable for babies and infants and its silicone bristles provide unique hygiene benefits. Your child can continue to use it until they are five, at which point you can upgrade to the mini.
If you don’t want to spend that much, either the battery-powered or rechargeable toothbrush from Oral-B would be a good way to introduce a child to powered brushing from age 3. The rechargeable model with its replaceable heads will work out cheaper in the long run.
The Philips Sonicare can adapt as your child grows, and the Bluetooth model offers that bit more engagement than the Oral-B app. But both the brush and the replacement heads are more expensive, so you’d want to be sure your child will make good use of it.
Ultimately, it’s most important that you show your child how to brush correctly and monitor their brushing until they can brush independently – probably around age seven or eight.
There are plenty of other things you can do to keep your child’s teeth and mouth healthy. These include having regular dental checkups and reducing the amount of sugar they consume, particularly as snacks. Find out more about maintaining children’s oral health here.