Want a healthier smile? There's an app for that

Date: January 2021

Author: Louise Sinclair

Apps have become an integral part of daily life, helping us with everything from shopping and banking, to fitness and productivity. Apps can also help us, as dental students and dentists, to promote good oral health and oral hygiene for our patients.

Powered toothbrushes can now be connected to smartphone apps to increase the effectiveness of toothbrushing. One study found that patients brushed more effectively when using a powered toothbrush was paired with an app compared to using the same powered toothbrush without the app. Biofilm reductions over a 6-week period were greater for the group using the powered toothbrush with the app:

  • Total oral biofilm reduced by 60% after one brushing, compared to 44.9% without an app
  • Biofilm at the gingival line reduced by 49.5%, compared to 34.7% without an app
  • Interproximal biofilm reduced by 56.9%, compared to 40.2% without an app
  • Gingivitis reductions of 38.9% compared to 28.9% without an app.

How do oral health apps help?

Some electric toothbrushes, like the Colgate Hum and the Colgate Smart Electronic Toothbrush E1, connect to dedicated apps that track toothbrushing activity.

We encourage patients to brush for two minutes, twice a day, but not all of them hit that target. Apps can help by sending reminders when it’s time to brush, and using timers to encourage brushing for the right length of time.

Apps can also show the user how well they’re brushing. Both Colgate brushes use advanced sensor technology to show exactly how much of the mouth was covered, highlighting spots that may have been missed or neglected. For example, your patient may be consistently missing the inner tooth surfaces when they brush. The apps alert patients and acts as coaches to help improve brushing in real time while your patient is brushing.

The Colgate Smart Electronic Toothbrush E1, for example, uploads the information gathered on brushing to an iPhone or iPad using bluetooth technology. The brush develops personalized recommendations for the individual using the brush. The 'Coach' tool guides brushing while the brush is being used and the 'Check-up' mode shows you visually where you brushed and missed.

The data gathered by an app can also be very helpful for improving patient communication. If your patient shares their app analytics with you, then you can offer oral health advice tailored to their specific needs and encourage them on improving their brushing technique. Patients can also be encouraged by improvements they've seen since using the app.

Oral health apps and motivation

Oral health apps can be a great source of motivation. Some patients are motivated simply by seeing data that shows their progress in black and white. Others, particularly children, respond very well to “gamification,” making toothbrushing like a game.

The Colgate Hum uses gamification by awarding points to the user for positive behaviors, which they can then exchange for rewards. For example, they would get one point every time they brush, and bonus points for an uninterrupted streak of regular brushing. The Colgate Smart Electronic Toothbrush E1 app includes two free games that turn the toothbrush into a game controller.

For kids, the Colgate Magik Toothbrush and app use augmented reality to turn toothbrushing into a fun, interactive and immersive gaming experience. Just like a typical game, kids can win awards, while parents can supervise from the app’s dashboard.

Standalone apps

Patients can benefit from other apps too, not only those provided in a smart powered toothbrush. Text2Floss, for example, is a standalone iOS app that offers reminders for brushing and flossing, timers to help with brushing duration, and educational features related to oral health. It is only available for an iPhone.

The Colgate Gum Health Physical

You can also use technology like the Colgate Gum Health Physical to help your patients, in addition to apps described above. This in-office tool lets you visually demonstrate to patients which areas of the gingiva need extra attention, and provides them with a take-home report with personalized oral health advice. The patient can then use a smart toothbrush and a paired app that will coach them and help them to brush effectively and paying attention to the areas that need it most. Videos and education information are also available.

Effective brushing helps patients maintain their oral health, and real-time feedback and coaching help patients achieve effective brushing. Like other areas of life, there are apps for that!

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