It's the Year of the Hygienist

Nov. 1, 2002
Have you heard? This is the "Year of the Hygienist," according to Dr. Joel Berg, vice president for clinical affairs at Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc., makers of the Sonicare toothbrush.

Have you heard? This is the "Year of the Hygienist," according to Dr. Joel Berg, vice president for clinical affairs at Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc., makers of the Sonicare toothbrush. Dr. Berg made this proclamation in 2001, but it looks like the Year of the Hygienist started in last month and will run through next October. Since October is National Dental Hygiene Month, it seems only fitting.

Several exciting things happened in October to kick off the Year of the Hygienist. You probably have noticed the first one arriving in the mail with this issue of RDH — your copy of the Scientific American's special issue on plaque biofilms. This is a must read. Besides being the most comprehensive report on oral biofilms to date, it gives us a totally new perspective on bacterial plaque. There's an interesting timeline of oral health through the decades — oral health trivia, if you will. Dr. Costerton of Montana State University's Center for Biofilm En-gineering wrote the feature article, and his colleague, Dr. Paul Stoodley, wrote another article. There's also an article on oral malodor by Dr. Louis Malcmacher and a fluid dynamics article by Dr. Chris McInnes.

This unique project is a partnership between a highly respected consumer publication and Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc. and is the first joint venture between Scientific American and dentistry. The project began at the "Emerging Trends in Oral Care Symposium" hosted by Philips Oral Healthcare in January 2001. This cutting-edge symposium presented the latest oral biofilm information to opinion leaders in dentistry. Scientific American writers and photographers also attended the symposium, meeting the attendees, learning about oral biofilms and gathering information for the special issue. As a regular reader of RDH, you read about this symposium and the latest biofilm research in my April 2002 column. The special issue of Scientific American is your opportunity to tap into this exciting new information.

In January, the "Emerging Trends in Oral Care Symposium" will be presented to opinion leaders in dental hygiene. Philips has created a venue for delivering cutting-edge research information to the profession, which will then be incorporated in the continuing education courses you attend in the coming months.

The other event kicking off the Year of the Hygienist is the introduction of the "Next Generation" Sonicare — the Sonicare Elite. If you already use the Sonicare toothbrush, you can't imagine a better one, can you? I know I couldn't. I've been a devout Sonicare user since it was first introduced 10 years ago.

There are so many good products on the market that sometimes it takes a personal connection to the people involved to attract my support. That's what happened with Sonicare. One of the company founders and product inventors was Dr. David Engel, a periodontist and highly respected researcher who graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry the same year I did. Years later, we were both on the faculty of the University of Washington at the same time — the time the Sonicare was invented and first researched. Knowing the inventor and the caliber of his research prompted my interest and trial of the product. I liked it and have used it ever since. Sure, I try all of the other products, but I always come back to the Sonicare. It's the one to which I compare all other power toothbrushes.

Being a diehard fan, I was pleased to be invited to participate as a Key Opinion Leader for Philips Oral Healthcare. Last spring, five of us — three dentists and two hygienists — were given a preview of the brush and asked to test a prototype before production began. The science and engineering were carefully explained. The five of us patiently listened, completely skeptical that our favorite toothbrush could or should be changed.

Sure, we thought the ring on the brush head was messy, and the back-plate chattered against the teeth, but over the past 10 years we had learned to adapt and had grown to love our Sonicare toothbrushes. Besides these small annoyances, we weren't convinced our favorite toothbrush could be improved. After listening to the information, we were all given a Sonicare Elite prototype and sent to the restrooms to try it out.

What a surprise! Just holding it, it's lighter and trimmer and the back-plate is gone. When I turned it on, I was surprised at how quiet it is compared to the original Sonicare. The brush head is smaller and more contoured, the neck of the brush is narrow enough to easily close my lips around and, best of all, there was no splatter. Brushing with the new Sonicare Elite was delightful.

We went back to the meeting room to give our feedback. Despite my focus on research, I was no longer focused on the scientific evidence supporting the new brush. I simply enjoyed brushing with it! To my surprise, the other four testers felt the same way. We oohed, aahed, and gushed over the brush. Maybe we're all just a bit weird from our years in dentistry, but we all got excited about brushing our teeth! Our preference for the Elite was emotional, rather than scientific. We enjoyed the way it brushed and the way our teeth and gums felt afterwards. We were instant converts. The Philips team thanked us for our opinions and then asked for the brushes back. The five of us collectively said no! We held the brushes hostage, not giving them back, and vowing not to leave the building unless we took our brushes home with us. We weren't going back to the old one.

We were lucky in the standoff. They did arrange for us to take home the prototypes we tested. We were all confirmed Elite users after just one brushing. There is research showing superiority over the original, but my message to you is — just try it, you'll never go back to your old brush.

The Sonicare Elite was officially introduced last month at the ADA meeting. If you didn't make it to New Orleans, you can test it in your own office, just give Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc. a call to arrange it.

Enjoy the "Year of the Hygienist," be sure to read your copy of the Scientific American special issue on oral biofilms, and expect cutting-edge biofilm information at the continuing education courses you attend in the coming year. And just for the experience, try the new Sonicare Elite. I wonder if you can try it and still go back to your old brush?

Trisha E. O'Hehir, RDH, BS, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter containing news about periodontics for dental professionals. The Web site for Perio Reports is She can be reached by phone at (800) 374-4290 and by e-mail at [email protected].