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Internet-enabled toothbrushes seemed like total overkill – until I tried one

Electric toothbrush with smartphone app
(Image credit: Monika Wisniewska / Shutterstock)

Not everything needs to be connected to the internet. I wasn't too impressed when I tried a smart coffee cup that cost $150 and require new firmware before I could start making my morning brew, and there have been several incidents where devices like smart speakers have been bricked by a faulty update.

That's before we get onto security. Any insecure Wi-Fi-enabled device has the potential to be exploited, meaning your smart fridge could become part of a botnet and used to carry out DDOS attacks. It sounds crazy, but it happened to vending machines at a college campus back in 2017.

That's why I've long been skeptical about smart electric toothbrushes – they seemed to be overcomplicating a mundane daily task, and providing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

Oral-B iO Series 9 electric toothbrush in charging case

The Oral-B iO Series 9 makes a good case for smart toothbrushes, and proves that they're not just a gimmick (Image credit: Future)

My first encounter with a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush, many years ago, didn't involve a mobile app at all. Instead, the brush linked to a small battery-powered unit that was essentially just a timer with an LED display that counted down two minutes and showed a frowny face if you stopped brushing early. The brush itself was good, but the Bluetooth unit was pretty pointless (like any electric toothbrush, this one buzzed in your hand once your time was up) and was soon relegated to the back of the bathroom cupboard to gather dust.

I therefore approached the Oral-B iO Series 9 electric toothbrush with a degree of wariness. It doesn't connect to your Wi-Fi network, thankfully (nobody wants their toothbrush to become part of a botnet), but it does link to your smartphone, with a companion app to help improve your daily brushing. It seemed like over-complicating matters – but I was quickly won around.

Plaque hacks

First, I should say that the iO Series 9 doesn't connect directly to your Wi-Fi network, so there's no worry about it becoming part of a malware-spreading botnet. Instead, it connects to your phone via Bluetooth using the Oral-B app. Yes, a firmware update for the toothbrush may be recommended, but it's a mercifully quick process that won't leave you waiting long.

Once that's done, and you've selected a nice color for the brush's main light, a graphic showing a set of teeth divided into six groups will appear on your phone's screen. As you begin to brush, each section will change from blue to white as you glide around the inside, outside, and biting surfaces.

The brush tracks its own location within your mouth, and while it's not absolutely perfect, it's very impressive, and can definitely help you get those rogue spots that the dentist says you always miss. It's not excessively complicated, and only adds a couple of seconds to your regular bathroom routine.

Oral-B app

The Oral-B app helps ensure you brush all surfaces of your teeth, and thoroughly clean any areas you usually miss (Image credit: Future)

There are various 'medals' up for grabs for achievements like brushing between 3:30am and 6am for five days, cleaning your tongue for several days in a row, or brushing at midnight. These look like a good way to keep kids motivated to clean their teeth, and thankfully the iO Series 9 is quiet enough not to wake you if they decide to partake in a nocturnal brushing session.

The brush works very well without the app, too. Almost all mid- to high-end electric toothbrushes have a pressure sensor that alerts you with a red light when you're pressing too hard, but the iO Series 9 also illuminates blue when you're not pressing hard enough, so you can get just the right amount of pressure without risking damaging your gums. Once you've finished cleaning, the brush's LCD display will show you a little emoji depending on how well you did, from a frowning face through to a smiley with stars for eyes.

All in all, it's the equivalent of getting a real-time brushing lesson, followed by a gold star sticker from your dentist – and who doesn't want that?

Cat Ellis

Cat Ellis is the fitness and wellbeing editor at TechRadar. She's been a technology journalist for 11 years, and cut her teeth on magazines including PC Plus and PC Format before joining TechRadar. She's a trained run leader, and enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the pavement. If you have a story about fitness trackers, treadmills, running shoes, e-bikes, or any other fitness tech, drop her a line at catherine.ellis@futurenet.com.