Power of Smart Toothbrush Connectivity
As patients look to play a more active role in their oral health, dental professionals may consider selling or recommending smart toothbrushes. Equipped with smartphone-connected apps that convey real-time feedback on brushing technique and duration, these brushes have the ability to improve patients’ self-care, and the app data can also be shared with dental teams for use in treatment planning and patient education.
Working for 16 years in private practice prior to joining academia, Kim L. Capehart, DDS, DBA, an assistant professor and interim chair of the Department of General Dentistry at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University, offered an early version of this technology in his office. He recalls how it changed some patients’ oral hygiene. “I’ve had patients for whom the app-enabled toothbrushes were extremely beneficial,” he says. “When using a manual toothbrush, brushing for two minutes can feel like an eternity; it is more likely the patient is only brushing for 30 to 45 seconds.” And while the timer feature is useful, smart toothbrushes also provide feedback on brushing technique, brush head positioning and other key parameters. For example, the apps can alert users if they are brushing too hard, missing certain tooth surfaces, or not brushing effectively.
“This real-time feedback allows the individual to take corrective action immediately,” Capehart explains. “While the data in its purest form may not be something patients use on a daily basis, the instantaneous feedback these devices provide is invaluable.” Not only to the patient, but also the provider if the user elects to share his or her brushing data.
This snapshot of self-care performance offers clinicians deeper insight into the patient’s brushing habits. By analyzing the data, the provider knows the patient’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of technique and areas where he or she is missing. Besides the general population, this can prove especially useful for young patients, older adults, or anyone with limited dexterity. Capehart considers this valuable information to share so providers can offer personalized feedback to improve the individual’s oral hygiene, and better tailor patient-specific maintenance and treatment plans.
If oral health professionals elect to carry these toothbrushes, Capehart recommends that patients practice with the device with the dentist or dental hygienist present to ensure they understand how to use it effectively. “We had an office smart toothbrush that was designed to let patients try it,” he says. “It had features such as disposable brush heads to avoid issues with cross contamination. I felt having this in my office was a win-win for the patient and clinical team.”
Noting he has nothing against manual toothbrushes if a patient is comfortable with this approach and has good oral hygiene, Capehart says he would “absolutely recommend” a smart toothbrush if the patient was open to app-enabled technology.
Another possible use for these devices is sharing brushing summaries with insurance carriers, who may eventually decide to reward effective self-care — similar to how some healthcare plans provide financial incentives to policyholders who meet certain health and weight benchmarks. Musing on this possibility, Capehart says it seems like a good model because, “in the long run, patients who improve oral hygiene need less therapy — which not only benefits oral and systemic health, it also reduces costs.” On a similar note, it fits well with evolving practice models that reward providers for emphasizing health and prevention over treatment.
From every perspective, smart toothbrushes can promote effective oral hygiene while simultaneously helping dentists and dental hygienists raise their level of care. In an increasingly connected world, all these data points make smart toothbrushes a technology worth considering.
From Decisions in Dentistry. November 2021;7(11)46.