By Jane Schmucker
Toothbrushes are not created or priced equal.
For example, the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart 9700 toothbrush that connects to a smartphone app and instructs users about coverage, ideal pressure, and scrubbing, is normally priced at $329.99 (but you can snag one from Best Buy or Walmart for only about $280).
Then again, you might prefer Colgate’s Premier Extra Clean toothbrushes featuring bi-level bristles and a backside built-in tongue scraper, available from Amazon.com for about $0.55 each, when you purchase them by the dozen.
When it comes to your own dental hygiene and that of your patients, do you recommend a Mercedes or a Ford — toothbrush that is?
Incisor interviewed a cross-section of oral health professionals on the subject of toothbrushes and asked whether any consumer brush can possibly be worth the $280, $350, and even more that top-of-the-line oral appliances command.
The answer, the experts say, depends largely on the head.
Not the brush head but the user’s head.
Those dentists (and even hygienists) who preach that the pricier toothbrushes always do a better job say that not everyone needs a powered model, and certainly not an expensive premium selection.
The consensus of professionals interviewed by Incisor is that some segments of the dental population stand to benefit most from state-of-the-art smart toothbrushes. They include:
- The Elderly
Isaac E. Cueto, DDS, of Gateway Dental Care in Wooster, Ohio, says that for patients who have lost dexterity – especially those who have had a stroke, suffer from dementia, or have Parkinson’s disease – smart toothbrushes are “worth every penny.”
- The Very Young
The flashiness and sounds of pricier toothbrushes can simply be more fun for kids. “If that gets them to brush their teeth, I’m all for it,” says Christine M. Blue, DHSc, MS, BSDH, who directs the division of dental hygiene at the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry.
New iPhone apps show patients where theyre brushing misses, and these are very helpful since most people are visual learners. “Patients using this app tend to brush for 2 minutes, 23 seconds,” says Cindy Marek, PharmD., an associate professor at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
- Those Who Are Averse to Waste
Patients who own an expensive toothbrush are more likely to use the brush, says Lars Perner, an expert on consumer behavior and assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
- Patients Who Get Lots of Cavities
Patients with a propensity for cavities will benefit from the extra edge a smart toothbrush may deliver. “It’s more important to have that level of perfection for some patients than for others,” says Dr. Blue.
Ohio’s Dr. Cueto reports that he’s seen huge improvements as a result of giving Sonicare toothbrushes to his periodontal disease patients as part of his treatment package. But he and his wife, who is also a dentist in northeast Ohio, tend to use their manual toothbrushes, even though they’ve received pricier models as free samples.
In his practice of 1,600 active patients, Dr. Cueto believes that at least 90% are still using a manual toothbrush.
Across the country, and in a much larger metropolitan area, Edmond R. Hewlett, DDS, an associate dean and 30-year faculty member at the UCLA School of Dentistry, says he sees a 50-50 split between electric and standard toothbrush users.
Dr. Hewlett is a proponent of electric toothbrushes, but not necessarily the pricey models. He's seen electric brushes of which he approves priced as low as $20 and certainly for less than $40.
“As you go up in price and features, there's not a whole lot of improvement in efficacy,” he says.
Among the most (debatable) toothbrush amenities are the ultraviolet sanitizers, and Dr. Cueto has doubts about just how much technology many people really want in a toothbrush.
“I don't know that anyone older than 40 cares for a brushing app,” he says.
Dr. Blue from Minnesota disagrees. Many elderly folks have smartphones, she says, and for those who are losing eyesight or find it hard to keep track of time, a toothbrush that talks to them can be a great advantage. Same with young children. “If the parent isn’t standing right there and guiding the child, it just helps,” says Dr. Blue, who, herself, has grandchildren.
Dr. Blue uses a $200 toothbrush that she won at a professional meeting and points to research that’s found that the more expensive toothbrushes with more vibrations per minute clean better.
For some consumers, paying more for a toothbrush than is absolutely necessary for function might be like joining Weight Watchers: “If they've spent all this money on their goal, be it clean teeth or a healthy weight, they’re more likely to make it happen, Dr. Blue says.”
Mr. Perner, the marketing professor, says, “even an expensive toothbrush given as a gift might get used more than a less-expensive model as recipients might feel guilty for not using something so costly.”
His own electric toothbrush died recently, and even though his dentist told him a conventional toothbrush would work just as well, Mr. Perner plans to buy another electric model.
“When I’m tired at night, I want the toothbrush to do the work for me,” he says.
However, he’s not planning to pay up to $350 or more for an electric toothbrush. He’s spotted them for about $100 at Costco and trusts the big box store’s buyers to offer choices he assumes to be the best value.
Dr. Cueto sums up the widening range of choices on the market like this: “They are essentially the difference between a Ford and a Mercedes. They'll both get you there. Do you need to go in style?”
Author: Contributing writer Jane Schmucker is a veteran journalist who has covered health and business topics. Now freelancing, she reported and edited for more than 22 years at The Blade (Toledo, Ohio). She has also worked on the rewrite desk for USA Today in Arlington, VA.
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