Pointless gadget or a real help: How useful are smart toothbrushes?

  • Technology
  • Sunday, 24 May 2020

Smart toothbrushes are suited to people who are older or limited in their mobility, but they're often best off in the hands of someone who enjoys using apps and technology. — Dirk Kropp/proDente e.V./Kierzkowski/dpa

Smart toothbrushes say they help improve your dental hygiene and motivate you to brush more often. Can they keep these promises?

At least twice a day for two minutes, preferably with an interdental brush or dental floss and a toothpaste with fluoride — proper oral hygiene can be exhausting. Reaching all the parts of your teeth that need to be cleaned isn't easy.

Can smart toothbrushes help? Is it worth ditching your ordinary brush to invest what can be hundreds of dollars in a high-tech alternative?

The fact that companies are launching smart toothbrushes on the market at the moment has more to do with marketing and brand image than consumer demand, according to Dirk Kropp, managing director of ProDente, a dental hygiene initiative in Germany.

However, the issues that manufacturers are currently addressing are the right ones, says Dietmar Oesterreich, vice president of the German Dental Association.

For example, many people exert too much pressure while brushing their teeth and can thereby damage their gums. Some smart toothbrushes signal when you're applying too much (or too little) pressure.

A smart device also has to work effectively as a toothbrush of course. Studies show that toothbrushes with a round, oscillating head perform best, says Christof Doerfer, director of a dental clinic in Kiel, Germany.

Intelligent brushes can help with systematic cleaning. A brush connected to a smartphone app can recognise the position of the brush in your mouth and can give you real-time feedback on whether all teeth are being reached.

"If the brush guides you or visualises where you are, that could make sense," Doerfer says. However, he adds that he doesn't know if this works reliably with the current technology.

There are currently no independent scientific studies. Nevertheless,"if you are corrected during cleaning and therefore there's a learning effect, it is attractive from a dental point of view," Kropp says.

A good result also depends on the time spent cleaning the teeth. It is not for nothing that the simplest electric brushes signal when two minutes are up or give a reminder to change the area being brushed every 30 seconds.

On the other hand, the time that should be spent teeth cleaning varies between individuals. "If the tooth position is unusual or the motor skills are not so good, it can make sense to brush for longer," Kropp says.

Ideally, Kropp says, a smart toothbrush would be able to recognise in real time whether the area being cleaned is already clean.

Some manufacturers already promise that – they say an optical sensor in the brush detects the biofilm on the teeth and warns if it hasn't been cleaned away.

Those who are familiar with apps and technology are more likely to use a smart toothbrush, according to Oesterreich.

They may also be well suited for children in that they can increase the fun of teeth cleaning. If you're older or have limited motor skills, you may also benefit, he says.

Finally, if there's an app involved, you also need to think about what the company is doing with your data. "In any case, read the data protection regulations critically," Oesterreich says. Check where your data is stored as well as who can access it and in what form. – dpa

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Dental Hygiene


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