Photo: Adam Clark Estes

Earlier this year, Colgate released a connected toothbrush, an artificially intelligent mouth cleaner that would be sold at Apple Stores for $100 a pop. It looks like most electric toothbrushes: thick handle, teeny head, buzzes when you turn it on. But this Colgate creation connects to your phone and teaches you how to brush your teeth better. At least, that’s what I was told.

So let me get a confession out of the way: I don’t like brushing my teeth. Just the idea of putting foreign objects in my mouth has always been off-putting, even though I know I have to do it. That’s precisely why I want to like electric toothbrushes.

The idea that technology can make brushing my teeth easier is a real winner in my opinion. But over the years, whenever I’ve tried this one or that one, I’ve always been consistently disappointed by electric toothbrushes. The fat handle bothers me, for some reason. The charger and storage situation is messy with gross cords everywhere. Most importantly the little buzzing on my teeth actually makes brushing feel more difficult.

Yet somehow, I still had hope for this new Colgate contraption. It’s officially called the “Colgate Smart Electronic Toothbrush E1,” a slick-sounding toothbrush name if I’ve ever heard one. Upon first reading about it, I assumed that there would be some sort of smart new brushing apparatus that covered more surface area or required less hand-moving or featured something so innovative I couldn’t even think of what it might be. After all, if this was the first and only toothbrush ever sold at an Apple Store it must be special, because I’ve been trained to believe that everything in the Apple Store is special. But alas, I was mistaken.

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The new $100 Colgate smart brush is actually a slightly different version of a connected toothbrush called the Kolibree Ara, which was born as a Kickstarter project and now sells for $130. Both devices are basically just run-of-the-mill electric toothbrushes with a Bluetooth chip inside. This chip allows the toothbrush to connect to an app that—best I could tell—shamed you in to brushing your teeth for longer and longer amounts of time. The main difference between the new Colgate E1 from the Kolibree Ara is the fact that the Colgate version has the Colgate logo on it.

The Colgate E1's app also looks a little different, though I can’t say how different because I didn’t test the Kolibree Ara app. In the Colgate app, there are four “Brush” adventures within the app that promise to make your mouth healthier: Coach, Coach+, Go Pirate!, and Rabbids Smart Brush. The first two are adult-oriented experiences that show your where you’re brushing and where you’re not. The latter two seem more kid-focused and try to turn brushing your teeth into a game that yields meaningless coins. I hated all of them.

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It’s a nice toothbrush, though. The device itself is lightweight and easy to use. Throughout my testing, the brush remained connected to my phone and always vibrated when asked. The proprietary charger seemed like an annoyance at first, but the battery life was good enough that I seldom needed to use it. All that said, however, the demanding AI-powered features in the app frustrated me so much that I contemplated switching to mouthwash for my oral hygiene needs. It might not do the job, but at least I wouldn’t feel bullied by it.

The big pressure point with the Colgate smart brush was time. Two minutes is the minimum for a complete brush. I knew this the first time I used the Colgate toothbrush, and I tried to brush extra, longer than I normally do. And a few moments after I stopped brushing, a notification on my phone gave me its feedback: 41 percent surface coverage in a lousy 1 minute 18 seconds. That’s a shitty notification to get five minutes before going to bed. “You tried to care for your hygiene, but you failed,” is how I read it.

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But I can understand the appeal. Even though my lazy ass hates brushing his teeth, even the smallest bit of feedback, like knowing when I can stop, could be very helpful. Beyond that, the coaching mode that’s supposed to help you improve coverage, and the immediate report on how well you did also work as advertised. I’m sure plenty of people, especially those who are teaching their kids how to brush, would find these features very helpful.

They’re not for me, though. Further use of my AI toothbrush reinforced my bad habits. As an analog tooth-brusher—that is, someone who uses a standard toothbrush—the adjustment to an electric toothbrush required a meaningful adjustment to the basic brushing habit I’d built up over three decades. I visited my dentist halfway through this review process, and she suggested I switch to an electric toothbrush in order to take better care of my gums. Fair enough! I like my gums, and I’m willing to change. This new artificially intelligent Colgate toothbrush, however, felt like too much change. Not only would I have to switch from scrubbing my pearly whites to letting a tiny motor move the brush. I’d also have to subject myself to smartphone alerts about my performance. Honestly, my email inbox provides enough alerts about my performance.

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On the bright side, I’m more interested in using an electric toothbrush. I like my teeth, and I would like it if they stayed in my head. The connected Colgate brush is more expensive than offerings from folks like Philips Sonicare, which has brushes that start at $25, but the electric toothbrush idea seems good to me now. For my money, I’d rather start off with a simpler electric toothbrush like the Sonicare and save my money for replacement heads. If you’re an advanced electric toothbrush user looking for a new experience, you might just like the new Colgate E1. If not, the Apple Store has a pretty good return policy.

Let me say one last thing, though. I think my toothbrush is one device that doesn’t need to be internet-connected. It’s fine that my watch tracks my fitness and my bathroom scale keeps a record of my weight. It’s not necessary, but it feels useful. My toothbrush, though? I’m happier just using it twice a day and forgetting about it. My dentist says that’s okay, too.

README

  • Nice lightweight electric toothbrush
  • App experience is anxiety-inducing
  • Might as well buy a Philips Sonicare or other normal electric toothbrush
  • What is AI, by the way?

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