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All electric toothbrushes work on the same principle, a fast automatic vertical oscillation.
The speed of this oscillation has varied from 170 strokes per minute to 32,000 per minute classified as sonic speed.

With the exception of Broxodent and Sonic toothbrushes that use asinusoidal axial oscillatory motion (magnetism) other toothbrushes are powered by a small electric motor. The motor turns a gear, which connects to a rod. As the gear turns, it pushes and pulls the rod. This translates the gear's circular motion into a back-and-forth motion.


Over the past 70 years electric toothbrushes have been powered using 5 methods.

1.Direct current - 2. Reduced direct current - 3. Inductive charging - 4. Battery external - 5. Battery internal.

DIRECT CURRENT

The first successful commercial electric toothbrushes were Swiss made but marketed commercially in America. They were powered using direct current. Broxodent Squibb was plugged directly into a 110v outlet. It was a sealed unit, the motor was encased in resin and the manufacturers claimed it was 100% waterproof.

Pre- 1959 and the Broxodent Squibb there were two other brushes on the market using the direct current method. Motodent and Vibra-Dent, these were not sealed motors and risk of shock near running water was high.

With rechargeable models now on the market, Broxodent continued to manufacture direct current models through to the 1980's. European models were now on the market powered by 240v.

Broxodent's selling point was that unlike the rechargeable competitors at the time, their brushes ran at a constant reliable powerful speed with no loss of power.

Broxodent's direct current models stopped being manufactured in the late 80's and as far as my research has taken me there are no commercially available brushes on the market that now use this method.

(far left) The Broxodent European model from the 1980's ran from a direct 240 volts. This brush still works and when switched on the power handle vibrates more violently than the brush head. (left) packaging for original Broxodent Squibb 1959.

REDUCED DIRECT CURRENT

During the 1970's electric toothbrushes became as popular in Germany as they were in America.

Manufacturers like AEG and Dentalux incorporated a mains transformer that reduced the high current of 110/220/240v to a safer voltage of around 9 to14v.

Effectivley isolating 110/220/240v from the brush handle and cord.
(110v=U.S.A. 220v=Europe. 240v=U.K)

These brushes were as powerful as the direct current models and to this day Broxodent still manufacture their Orabrush using a reduced direct current still with the conviction that its a far more superior power source than recharging.

(far left) Dentalux Super (1970's) and (left) Broxodent 2000 (2000) both use the reduced direct current method for a reliable power brushing experience.

INDUCTIVE CHARGING

Inductive charging uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between the brush handle and the charging station. Energy is sent through inductive coupling to an electrical device, which then can use that energy to charge batteries.

To compete with Broxodent, General Electric in the U.S.A manufactured the first rechargeable toothbrush. The selling point! No electric leads, portable, and no danger of shock. The only drawback with the first rechargeable models was that they did not hold a charge for long. And the charge held, declined fast with the age of the brush.

G.E continued to manufacture rechargeable brushes and with advancement in charging technology other companies such as Presto, Sunbeam, Braun and AEG manufactured rechargeable models.

Most modern day electric toothbrushes are now rechargeable and are capable of holding a charge for longer than 2 weeks. Chances of electric shock are nil.

Recharging proves to be the most popular method to date.

(far left) General Electric 1959. Large cumbersome handle containing D cell batteries did not hold a charge longer than 4 brushings. (left) G.E late 70's. Advancement in charging technology made this a more reliable brush. Its the only brush in my collection where at the flick of a switch it goes from vertical to horizontal motion.

BATTERY EXTERNAL

With the option of marketing internationally, electric toothbrush companies designed battery powered toothbrushes.

Ronson, Boots, Du Pont and Kenner designed brushes that were connected via a cord to either a stand or a cabinet where the batteries were housed. This way more batteries were used making the brush more powerful and the handle less heavy.

Some models were capable of holding 6 D cell batteries, a total of 9 volts, making them just as powerful as a reduced direct current.I have never come across a toothbrush that has been powered by a single 9v battery. Please contact me if you know otherwise.

These were great and safe for kids. Novelty brushes were designed to encourage good dental hygiene. Models included Bugs Bunny (see main page) Snoopy and Popeye.

External battery models are currently not manufactured.

(far left) Mickey Mouse Factory by Kenner U.S.A 1972.
The batteries were housed in the factory base.
(left) Boots Battery Toothbrush with Cabinet 1985.
This powerful brush ran off 4 D cell batteries that were concealed in the unit.

BATTERY INTERNAL

Toothbrushes that were powered by a single C cell 1.5v battery were manufactured by Boots, Schick, and Riam.

Unlike the rechargeable models that had internal more powerful batteries. Internal battery brushes were at the cheaper end of the market and were designed for single use with travel in mind.

The earlier models did "chug" along but were not powerful enough for an invigorating brush. And in my subjective opinion, if this was your first electric brushing experience, it would have been a disappointment.

The good news is that with advancement in design, modern day battery brushes are satisfactory. Oral B produce a battery operated model that is adequate for travel and cleans almost as good as their expensive rechargeable models.

(left) Schick Travel U.S.A 1960's. This model has a button on its base that automatically powers off the unit when placed on a surface. With this selling gimmick in mind, the brush was simply not powerful enough for an invigorating experience.