In a world where the things we own – like our phones or credit cards – can track details of our daily lives, it may not be surprising that toothbrushes might soon keep tabs on how well we treat our teeth.
Oral-B is pairing mobile app technology with an electric toothbrush that the toothbrush manufacturer said would allow its customers to collect data on just how well they brush their teeth – and offer advice on how to improve.
But Oral-B isn't the only company that thinks tooth brushing will be improved with an internet connection. A three-person firm – the Louisville, Kentucky-based Beam Technologies – already hit the market with an app-enabled manual toothbrush more than a year ago.
The idea is to encourage better brushing habits, and boost sales in a competitive toothbrush market, by appealing to consumers with the latest, trendiest, internet-enabled technology.
"There are 300 million Americans … there are probably 280 million of them are brushing their teeth every day. You find me something else that 280 million Americans are doing every day. There's a market for that," says Beam chief executive Alex Frommeyer in a phone interview.
Oral-B's brush relies on Bluetooth technology, similar to what mobile phone makers use to connect their devices with wireless headphones and other accessories. Oral-B says its new brush, which is supposed to have a global release later this year, records how long and how often a user brushes her teeth, and stores that data onto a smartphone or tablet running a special app. From there, the data can be viewed – and the computer can offer advice on better brushing, the company says. The brush's data can also be shared with a dentist, said Kris Parlett, a spokesperson with Oral-B's parent company, Proctor & Gamble.
"It's another data point for a dental professional to assess what she or he is seeing in the mouth," says Mr. Parlett in a phone interview.
Oral-B will reportedly sell its app-enabled brush for approximately $219; Beam's manual brush is available for $24.99 and replacement heads priced at $3.99 each.
Electric toothbrushes have been around for years, and pairing computers with brushing isn't a new idea: Some electric models include sensors to warn users not to press too hard while brushing, or allow users to customize their brush with different heads and bristle configurations.
But the brushes from Oral-B and Beam add a twist: They aim to make toothbrushing social. Mr. Parlett says that customers can earn achievements through tooth brushing and share them with friends over Facebook. (He notes the option can be turned off by users.)
Mr. Frommeyer notes that his company also offers awards – such as discounts on movie tickets at AMC Theaters – for users who reach certain goals with their oral care.
Oral-B can tap into a licensing deal it has with the Walt Disney Company to win over customers. The company has released a free toothbrushing app that displays Disney and Marvel Comics characters. (The app works as a timer to encourage kids to brush their teeth for two minutes.)
Frommeyer expects that toothbrushing will be analyzed more in the future, not less.
"The premise that this isn't an activity that we shouldn't understand through data is crazy to me," he says.