Thursday, April 19, 2007

Super toothbrush may take food out of your dentist's mouth

When I learned to brush my teeth, my father scolded, "If your mouth isn't bleeding, you're not brushing hard enough!"

For years, every morning I brushed, and every morning I bled.

Last year, my dentist discovered that I had swollen, bleeding gums (gingivitis), and it was not from heavy-handed brushing.

Gingivitis is the earliest stage of gum disease, an inflammation of the gums caused by plaque buildup at the gumline. If daily brushing and flossing do not remove the plaque, it produces toxins (poisons) that can irritate the gum tissue, causing gingivitis. You may notice some bleeding during brushing and flossing. At this early stage in gum disease, damage can be reversed, since the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place are not yet affected.

If your hands bled when you washed them, you would be concerned; but many people think it's normal if their gums bleed when they brush or floss. In 1999, the National Institutes of Health found that half of Americans over 30 had bleeding gums.

("Bleeding Gums" Murphy was a saxophone player in the animated TV series The Simpsons, and an idol of Lisa Simpson. Bleeding Gums gave the origin of his nickname as this: "Well let me put it this way... you ever been to the dentist? Not me. I suppose I should go to one, but I got enough pain in my life as it is." Murphy died at an early age of unexplained causes. BE WARNED.)

Swollen and bleeding gums are early signs that something is wrong. Most likely, your gums are infected with bacteria. If nothing is done, the infection could spread and destroy the structures that support your teeth in your jawbone. Eventually, your teeth could become so loose that they have to be extracted.

"Perio" means around, and "dontal" refers to teeth. Periodontal diseases are infections of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone. In the earliest stage of periodontal disease — gingivitis — the infection affects the gums. In more severe forms of the disease, all of the tissues are involved.

In recent years, gum disease has been linked to a number of other health problems, including Stroke, Diabetes, Premature births, Heart disease, and Respiratory disease.

While I am not a likely candidate for a premature birth, the other potential problems are decidedly unpleasant; and my dentist arranged for me to see a gum specialist. Dr. Goodgums did some probing and scraping, decreed a three-times-a-day four-minute brushing regimen, frequent flossing, and scheduled a re-exam six weeks later.

I was never a brush-after-every-meal guy. I do keep a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste in the office john, but it's reserved for special occasions. I did brush every morning, and was willing to add a night-time session.

The prescribed four-minute sessions lasted an eternity. I found I was bored or worn out after about two and a half minutes.

Then I got an inspiration. I figured that the key was not really the amount of time I spent brushing, but the actual number of brush strokes. If I could do more strokes per minute, I wouldn't need to brush for as many minutes.

Although I had long-ago switched from a manual brush to a motorized model, it seemed like I was putting a pokey Honda in my mouth, and I wanted to be driving a vroom-vroom Ferrari.

I was not about to invest in a dentist's chair and a high-horsepower roto-tool, but I found the next-best thing, the Braun Oral-B Triumph Professional Care 9000.

Despite the venerable old-world Braun label, Oral-B really comes from razor-maker Gillette, which is part of Proctor & Gamble, the soap, diaper and dog food folks.

The Oral-B Triumph rechargeable toothbrush, with multiple brush functions and choices of brush heads, is pretty close to having a professional hygienist do your teeth. It costs more than many other electrics, but I think it's well worth the price.

Assembly is easy. Just insert the charging ring into the base station, and attach the plastic protective cover, which conveniently stores up to four attachments. Slip the toothbrush body into the charging unit and the Triumph will become fully charged in about 12 hours.

Fully charged, this toothbrush will give you about 25 brushing sessions, which makes it easy to travel without schlepping the charger. If you are going to be away for a long time, you can save suitcase space by taking the charger without the full-size base. Should you be motivated to show off your Triumph to someone you meet in a far-away hotel, the display on the Triumph handle can be programmed for any of 13 different languages. The SmartPlug automatically adapts to any voltage worldwide.

Two brush heads are included with the Triumph -- the FlossAction and the PowerPolisher. The FlossAction brush head relies on MicroPulse bristles that penetrate between the teeth for a flossing effect, while the PowerPolisher is designed, as the name implies, to "power polish" your teeth. The Triumph is able to recognize the brush head you've attached, and automatically select the appropriate mode of brushing. Two other modes -- "massage" and "soft" -- can be selected manually.

A digital display in the Triumph handle tells you when the brush heads are ready for replacement or when the battery needs recharging. Additionally, the brush is programmed to time each brushing session for the recommended two minutes. Every 30 seconds the brush pulses, alerting the user to shift to a new section of the mouth. And when the two minutes are up, the brush pulses and displays a friendly "happy face" on the handle's indicator.

Tests show that the new brush head removes over 90% of plaque, and I definitely had a happy face when I went for my checkup with Dr. Goodgums. He looked me over carefully and made detailed measurements, and said that I had made the most complete recovery from Gingivitis that he had ever seen. My gums were so good, in fact, that he canceled my next appointment, depriving him of $150 -- which is more than I paid for the brush.

List price is $130. I got mine for just under $100 at Look for special deals on accessories. If you spend $129 or more on select Braun and Oral-B products at Amazon, you get $50 off a future purchase. The current offer expires April 30, 2007. (some info above from Colgate, Amazon, Wikipedia)

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