Innovation from technology and product design firm Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP), called ‘TruthBrush’, turns the humble manual toothbrush into a sophisticated monitoring device that can capture a variety of information about how people are actually brushing their teeth.
Using sensors and algorithms, the TruthBrush can reveal information ranging from how long someone spends brushing their teeth and at what times of day through to technique data, such as the ratio of time spent cleaning the top versus the bottom teeth.
The TruthBrush uses CDP’s unique user insight service diialog, which translates a stream of data from miniature sensors into valuable information to help clients make more informed investment decisions. As diialog uses the latest in ultra-low-cost sensors, it means the size of user trials can far exceed those of established ethnographic methods.
This information is already becoming available in the electric toothbrush market – via smart apps connecting to the electronics already present in an electric brush. But developing an electric toothbrush is an expensive process, the information gathered is only partially relevant to manual toothbrush users – and the vast majority of consumers, particularly those in the developing world, still use manual toothbrushes.
What’s different about the TruthBrush is that it makes it possible for any toothbrush company to gather that same data at a fraction of the cost – and use the information to bring innovation to every bathroom at an affordable price. It could mean, for example, a better toothbrush handle for elderly people struggling with dexterity issues – or a brush that lights up and buzzes when a child has brushed their teeth for the required amount of time.
“This is primarily a service to help clients work out where innovation opportunities lie,” said George Bostock, oral care leader at CDP. “It’s a practical alternative to investing millions of pounds developing a fully connected brush with a whole host of features that consumers don’t actually need or want. A manual toothbrush in the right hands is as good as an expensive electric toothbrush. The challenge is getting people to clean their teeth properly with whatever device they use.”
The TruthBrush highlights how people are using even a basic manual toothbrush – and gives food for thought when it comes to improvements in design. It might be that a twisted handle shape – or a different neck design – could make it easier to clean the difficult-to-reach teeth at the back of the mouth, for example.
“The oral care environment is incredibly complex,” said George. “Even the most basic toothbrush usually has 500+ bristles, and everyone brushes their teeth slightly differently – so mathematically modelling how bristles move around the mouth is very difficult. Add to that the fact that the substance you are trying to remove – plaque – is a biosystem of different components, all clinging to your teeth, so it’s not just a simple question of how much force you need to use to remove it. This complexity makes it hard to validate test methods – whereas the TruthBrush can uncover vital information from behind the bathroom door, without affecting the consumer’s daily routine.”