I’m bad at maths. Whenever I go out to dinner, I take way too long to figure out the tip. So instead of risking a moment of awkwardness, I use the calculator app on my phone. That’s something I always do now.
What was once a convenience has now edged closer to reliance.
It’s nothing new, but with the progress of technology often comes the nagging sense that something ‘smarter’ is making me fundamentally dumber, and the question of whether or not that even matters.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying I’ve kind of enjoyed this smart connected toothbrush. Every time I’ve used it, my mouth has felt something close to how I feel upon leaving the dentist. I’ve spent more time brushing my teeth in the last month than I have in the past two put together. I’m fully confident they’re in better shape now than they would have been normally.
To achieve this, though, I’ve had to let an app walk me through the process of brushing my teeth. Every morning and every night, for about four minutes, I go to my sink, ready my electric toothbrush of the future, and stare at my smartphone, following its lead as it tells me which part of my mouth to brush next. It’s worked, mostly. It’s also made me feel weird.
Let’s take a step back. The smart toothbrush has an appropriately clunky name (the Philips Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected
) and an appropriately hefty price ($200 — though there are “normal” electric brushes
that somehow cost more than that).
I won’t pretend to be a toothbrush connoisseur, but here are some basic things you should probably know:
- The Platinum Connected is built well, insofar as you can say that about a toothbrush. It’s huge, but grippy, and not too heavy. All of its buttons are easy to reach and press. It what I’d imagine a “premium toothbrush” to feel like.
- There are two replaceable brush heads in the box. One is longer and better for general usage, but both are flexible and soft.
- Philips says the included battery will last around two weeks before needing a recharge. I was able to get a little more than that brushing twice a day. This is fine.
- The brush has three different levels of intensity. The second is a good middle ground for most — it’s forceful, but healthily so. The third is like putting a jackhammer in your mouth, but again, it gets the gunk out of there.
- It pairs quickly and reliably over Bluetooth 4.0.
- It comes with a sturdy travel case.
- For $20 more, you can get model that comes with a UV sanitizer, which’ll kill leftover bacteria on the brush heads.
The “smart” stuff is what Philips is selling this thing on, though. That comes in a couple of ways. On the brush itself, there are three separate brushing modes: “Clean” is the standard issue one, “White” is meant for stain removal, and “Deep Clean” does a little more work with your gums.
All of that is used in tandem with the brush’s companion app (iOS, Android). This is what “coaches” you to better brushing habits. Once you have the brush paired and turned on, the app lays out a digital mouth, with a timer in the middle. As that counts down, it directs you to focus on different parts of your teeth, breaking them up into six sections. The brush itself will vibrate when it’s time to move on to the next one.
Things differ based on which mode you use: Clean has you focus on each region for about 20 seconds at a time, while White tells you to spend longer on your front teeth. In any case, the brush’s sensors pick up on what spots it thinks you’ve covered adequately. If you did well, that area will be white. If not, yellow. If you press down too hard or scrub too fast, the sensors will pick up on that as well, and the app will tell you to take it easier.
This isn’t perfect. Not once, for instance, has the app told me I paid enough attention to the outer side of the top left third of my mouth. One time, I spent two minutes only cleaning that section — nothing.
In general, it’s not uncommon for it to miss a spot, which creates this absurd disconnect where you’re fighting your phone to acknowledge something you know you’ve done in reality. The future! Still, provided you follow along, everything works well enough to be effective.
There are other useful features in the app:
- You can set cleaning goals for yourself — “use White mode once a day,” “brush your tongue to clean bacteria,” etc. — and keep a tally on how well you’ve kept to them.
- You can specify certain “focus areas” where you might have a potential cavity or plaque buildup, and have the app highlight them as you’re brushing along.
- There’s an option for sending your brushing data to — and setting up appointments with — your dentist.
- There’s also a counter that tells you how many sessions your brush head has left before it needs replacing. Philips gives you links to buy new ones right from the app, because of course it does.
To reiterate: If you give in, all of this can help. The app is well thought out, and the brush itself is very good. Even if the tracking could stand to be more accurate, it drills you into being meticulous about your health, which has a tangible effect. If you have real dental concerns, there are genuine advantages here.
Yet, there’s something deflating about leaning on technology for something as fundamental as tooth brushing. It’s not like the Platinum Connected unlocks some level of cleanliness that hasn’t existed before; it just does the work for people who can’t be bothered to brush right the normal way.
Conflicted about whether or not something like this is a Good Thing, I emailed professionals at NYU’s College of Dentistry. When asked if they’d recommend a smart toothbrush to patients, Shirley S. Birenz, Clinical Assistant Professor, and Dianne L. Sefo, Clinical Instructor, summed it up pretty well:
“We have been recommending powered toothbrushes to people for years. They can be helpful for people who do not have the dexterity to manually brush. A smart brush has the additional advantage of journaling, should a hygienist want to see if the patient is following instructions, as well as motivational features that are attractive to some.
“There is a distinct disadvantage to a powered toothbrush, however, in that people lose the ability to use a manual brush, and cannot brush should the battery die or the power goes out. Something along the lines of remembering phone numbers and calculators…”
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