The toothbrush has grown accustomed to watching other products innovate and amaze while it stays basically the same. Toothpaste, floss, and mouthwash all have had their moment in the spotlight (organic! exotic flavors!), but since 1954, when the electric version was introduced, the toothbrush has stood on the sidelines. That was then, but thanks to Blizzident, a 3-D-printed mouth-cleaning device, the humble brush is finally about to get some bragging rights.
Though it does get teeth clean—in six seconds!—Blizzident does not look like anyone’s old toothbrush. It’s more like one of those mouthguards that pugilists have to don before a fight. No one ever said Blizzident was cute (it is not), but it is ingenious. It is also a collaboration between the tech world and oral hygiene experts. "The intention was to make oral hygiene as easy as biting into an apple," says Blizzident spokesperson Chris Martin. Six months later, they had a prototype that could do just that.
To purchase a brush first requires getting a dentist to take a digital scan or impression of your teeth. That is scanned to Blizzident’s company server and a 3-D model is printed with a high-precision machine. "3-D printing makes mass tailoring of products possible, because you can produce single pieces at reasonable prices," says Martin. "Before, you had to produce 10,000 pieces of exactly the same shape to make a single piece affordable." The company uses stereolithography, which is a rapid prototyping process where liquid plastics are turned into solid objects.
Before conceiving of the idea for the toothbrush, Blizzident had developed software for F1-racing teams and car manufacturers like BMW that focused on 3-D printing of complicated parts and shapes for their cars. Says Martin of Blizzident's previous focus: "We had been working in rapid prototyping and rapid tailoring of complex products for F1 racing teams for many years and thought 'Where else can this knowledge be used?'" Once the model is printed, it is used in a biting and chewing simulation to determine the best way to position the 600 bristles for that particular user's mouth.
Here's how it works: Squeeze a drop of toothpaste onto the tongue and spread it over the teeth ("Toothpaste is important because of the fluoride…and the fresher breath," says Martin). Then, bite down. For the next six seconds—versus the recommended two minutes with a standard toothbrush—practice the Modified Bass and the Fones brushing techniques. Say what? That’s fancy talk for "grind your teeth back and forth while the brush angles itself properly to clean." At the same time, the bristles get under the gum line to clean it much better than most people can do with their normal, by-hand efforts (though Blizzident does not get in between your teeth the way floss does).
All of this ingenuity does not come cheap. Brushes cost $299, plus the fee for the 3-D scan (approximately $75 to $200, depending on insurance coverage). Replacements are $159, or the cheaper option of an $89 refurbished model, where the device is cleaned and bristles are replaced. Why pay so much? Because cleaner teeth means less time, less pain, and less money being spent in the dentist’s chair.
[Image: Flickr user Ricardo Velasquez]