WE all imagine that there can be no gadget that is more
personal or intrusive than a cellphone. But move your focus ever so slightly
and you come across an even more invasive device – and one that is not usually
regarded as a gadget at all: the toothbrush.
But ever since the first electric toothbrush was invented by
the Swiss in 1954, this household object has become ever more closely
associated with gadgetry.
Now, just as phones have given way to smartphones, electric
toothbrushes have been taken to a new level, with the “smart toothbrush”.
Oral B may not be as cool a brand as Samsung or Apple, and
certainly won’t appear in as many headlines, but it also has a shot at
revolutionising a routine task.
It has produced a toothbrush that costs more than R1 700,
which is a huge mouthful in its own right. But then, the Oral B Triumph 5000 is
not your common or bathroom toothbrush.
It comes with a pressure indicator and “oscillating-rotating
technology” that sends multiple brushes whizzing around your teeth at the same
More significantly, it includes a SmartGuide “power
toothbrush timer”, which offers – and this is not tongue-in-cheek – “an
interactive personal cleaning coach”.
The device links wirelessly to your toothbrush to monitor
your brushing, and uses digital diagrams to tell you how long you should be
brushing, on which areas to focus for how long, and how much pressure to exert.
Oral B has conducted scientific studies that show that users
of the device are five times more likely to brush for dentists’ recommended two
minutes twice a day. Moreover, 93% of users reduce excessive force when
brushing, and 92% brush more thoroughly.
If you had a personal dental coach looking over your
shoulder issuing instructions while you used a “normal” toothbrush, you'd also
have those kind of results. But then, the SmartGuide is less intrusive than the
The main drawback is that both the toothbrush and the
SmartGuide need recharging. Setting it up also demands you resort to the manual
– a shock for those who are used to most gadgetry having become intuitive.
A field test revealed, though, that it really does work –
your teeth feel cleaner and smoother. But the complexity of having to set up a
toothbrush and link it to a different device is not going to overcome the
resistance many people have to brushing their teeth in the first place.
What will help is greater knowledge of the health benefits
of keeping teeth clean. The World Health Organisation has shown dental disease
can also bring on other illnesses. As a result, a far more low-tech approach to
dental health attracted much attention recently.
At the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in
the United States, one of the award winners was a South African schoolgirl who
invented a device for sterilising toothbrushes in poor communities.
Chene Mostert of Ladysmith High School was inspired by a
British study of how toothbrushes left in bathrooms were exposed to harmful
She collected toothbrushes from rural and urban areas, had
them analysed by a laboratory, and found that all of them carried
disease-causing organisms. The main problem was not only that they were kept in
bacteria-heavy bathrooms, but that people in poorer communities often shared
She then designed a low-cost steriliser that uses hydrogen
peroxide to kill the bacteria and a rotating mechanism to rinse the brush.
The device was entered in the Eskom Expo for Young
Scientists, where it won not only the top award, but also an entry into the
Intel fair in Pittsburgh. Her prize included $2 000 from the American Dental
“Kids are inspired by the environment in which they live,”
says Parthy Chetty, Intel SA head of corporate affairs.
“The challenge is to create projects that address real
issues, and this one recognised both a need and the circumstances in which
people live. It’s thrilling for me to see to this kind of work.”
It also proves that you don’t need to be hooked on expensive
gadgets to reinvent the word of mouth.
*Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget and managing
director of World Wide Worx. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
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