We’re not sure, as we’ve actively worked to block out the horror of most of our dental visits, but we don’t think we’ve ever had a dentist teach us how to brush our teeth. They probably did when we were five or so, but those were baby teeth, and who cares about them except for demons? Smart toothbrushes are supposed to give you guidance on your daily brushings so you can do them more effectively. We took the Oral-B Genius 8000 Bluetooth Toothbrush (Bluetoothbrush?) for a spin, so we could review it and our brushing technique.
Getting a handle on it
The first thing you’ll notice about the Oral-B Genius is its big box. If you’re used to manual toothbrushes, you might be surprised at just how much comes with this model. You get the handle, three brush heads, a charger that holds extra brush heads, a smart traveling case that can charge your phone and handle, and a smartphone holder you can suction cup to your bathroom mirror. It’s a lot!
If you’re used to manual toothbrushes, you might be surprised at just how much comes with this model.
The handle is black; the brush heads and charger are white. It looks a bit weird all together. On the handle, you’ll find two buttons and a series of images that light up when you hit the “mode” button. The button on top is the power button. The pictures illuminate to show which mode you’re in; there are six. The battery and Bluetooth icons also light up when you’re brushing. Around the top of the handle is a “smart ring.” In the Oral-B app (available for both iOS and Android), you can change the color of this ring to one of 12 colors.
The three brush heads are each a bit different: One is angled for precise cleaning, one has a polishing cup for whitening, and one is softer for sensitive teeth. There are also other compatible heads for targeting between teeth or brushing with braces.
Feel the vibration (er, rotation)
Unlike Sonicare models, which use vibration to help get your teeth clean, Oral-B’s are oscillation-rotation brushes. In either case, you don’t really need to scrub like you do with a manual brush. When you open the Oral-B app, it will ask what shape of brush head you’re using and show you a video on how to use it. It sounds silly for someone who’s been using a toothbrush for decades, but it turns out we’ve been doing it wrong.
You’re just supposed to angle the brush and hold it in on the tooth for a bit before moving on. The Genius also has a built-in pressure sensor, so the handle will shake and light up red when you’re pressing too hard. We found this only went off when we were brushing the backs of our molars, so we couldn’t tell if we really were pressing too hard or it was just something with the angle.
There are six modes that make the toothbrush behave a bit differently: daily clean, a regular two-minute brushing; pro-clean, which operates longer and at a higher frequency; sensitive, for a more gentle touch; 3D-white, which the manual describes as “polishing,” that gets you an extra 20 seconds to focus on your front teeth; gum care, which is meant for those with tender gums; and tongue clean, for that bacteria trap in your mouth.
There are two types of timers, as well: two-minute and professional. The first simply emits sound and light when the allotted time is up, while the second buzzes and flashes every 30 seconds so you know when to move on to a new quadrant. You can switch between them by pressing and holding the mode button.
Watch what happens, live!
You certainly don’t need to use the app with your Oral-B Genius. You can change the modes on the handle itself and go about your life. But it’s clear Oral-B really wants you to use it, as they’ve packed a lot into it. There’s a kid’s activity center, which uses Snapchat-style filters and sounds.
It can even make GIFs of your child brushing so they have proof of their diligence. One day while using the kids feature we had a leopard mask placed on our face, and in another we had a snake coiled on our head and scaly green skin on our cheeks. For something labeled the “Fun Zone,” it gave us an unreasonable amount of anxiety.
For adults, you can get weather and news to flash across your phone as you brush. There’s also a “position detection” mode. Using your smartphone’s camera, it detects where in your mouth the brush is, and sparkly blue quadrants turn white as you brush for the appropriate amount of time.
There’s no countdown; you just keep brushing until the blue is gone. This… did not work for us. The app often thought the brush was in a different spot than where we were holding it, so a section that we hadn’t brushed yet would turn from blue to white. In order to get the credit we so desperately desired from the app, we had to hold the brush in place as the section changed color.
There are more personalized routines you can opt for, designed for fighting plaque or freshening breath. For the gum health “journey,” over the course of eight weeks, you’ll brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes each time. But you can select your back left top molar, bottom front quadrant, and other areas you think need more time and attention. The app sets your modes to sensitive, massage, or tongue cleaner.
The position detection didn’t really work for us, which is one of the major selling points of the toothbrush.
There’s also a section where your dentist (if you choose to show him or her the app) can tap different areas of the mouth to add extra seconds to your routine and some notes about what you should focus on. The mouth diagram is a bit more reminiscent of the Kolibree Ara app. That $129 smart toothbrush uses motion sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes to track its position, and the app gives you a fairly detailed view of the spots you missed when brushing.
In addition to the journeys you can embark upon with your Genius, the app also keeps track of whether you did your twice-daily brushing. We found it kept track very faithfully, even if you haven’t synced with the app in a few days. Sometimes we’d have the app open and be using the toothbrush, but it wouldn’t sync our sessions for the past few days. Beware that you might need to do the specific pairing routine to get the updated info into the app before accusing your kids of skipping brush time.
For some reason, simply lifting the toothbrush off the charger connected the device more reliably than pressing the mode button, which is another option. On the days it didn’t sync, we were a bit disappointed to not get a notification or gentle chiding for not brushing. Be more disappointed in us, app! You do get Untappd-style achievement badges for brushing streaks and flossing regularly.
Oral-B says you should be able to use the Genius for 12 days, twice a day, before the battery runs out. We took it on a five-day trip and had no problems. The accompanying travel case actually lets you charge the toothbrush on the go, and it has a USB slot for phone chargers as well. It’s not completely necessary but, hey, why not?
Oral-B offers a two-year limited warranty for the Genius 8000.
Digital Trends spoke with a couple dentists last year who weren’t convinced you need an electric toothbrush to have good dental hygiene. They’re pretty pricey, after all. And any brush with a two-minute timer can help ensure you aren’t just calling it a day after 45 seconds. That said, a smart toothbrush does keep you accountable if you don’t always brush both morning and night. Getting personalized help from your dentist and being able to follow prescribed plans based on your dental goals is cool, but we wish the Oral-B Genius’s position detection worked better.
What are the alternatives?
In addition to the $190 Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected ($190), which uses an app to show a detailed guide where you have and haven’t brushed, and the Kolibree ($129), there are a few choices that aren’t on the market yet. Prophix ($299) will have a built-in camera that lets you see your chompers up close and personal as you brush.
While not actually that smart, the $199 Amabrush is an automatic toothbrush that looks ridiculous. It’s sort of like a mouth guard with bristles and can supposedly do two minutes’ worth of brushing in 10 seconds. If — and it’s a big if —- it actually does what’s promised, we’d exchange any old toothbrush for it in a second.
Will it last?
Oral-B has been making electric toothbrushes for quite a while and is one of the big two in the market — Philips Sonicare being the other. Keep in mind you’ll have to replace your brush head four times a year. You can get a three-pack for about $21 on Amazon — and incidentally you can set up regular reordering from the online retailer through the Oral-B app. Factoring in Bluetooth does add an extra layer of complication. We’d like to see some improvements in the app, including more options for the Fun Zone — including a way to ensure we never see that snake again.
Should you buy it?
At $156, the Oral-B Genius 8000 is slightly less expensive than the Sonicare FlexCare. If you’re really looking for a detailed view of how you’re brushing, it might not offer the best experience. If all you want is to track your brushing and get a more personalized routine, though, you should be able to find it with the Genius.