The idea in my head is a song now, reminding kids about how to brush

Aug. 1, 1996
I have lots of ideas. They involve amazing inventions to solve age-old problems and bring great fortunes my way. Of course, I also have a very active imagination. Lacking both time and money, my great ideas just float around in my head until I discover someone else who has the same idea. The other inventor, though, has actually done something about it.

Trisha E. O`Hehir, RDH

I have lots of ideas. They involve amazing inventions to solve age-old problems and bring great fortunes my way. Of course, I also have a very active imagination. Lacking both time and money, my great ideas just float around in my head until I discover someone else who has the same idea. The other inventor, though, has actually done something about it.

"Hey, wait a minute, that`s my idea!" I will say. "And besides that, you actually brought the idea to reality looking much better than I had envisioned."

When my ideas materialize in someone else`s hands, it is truly a delight. And that`s exactly what happened to me today. I took my first stroll on the Internet. Since it`s more accurately termed "surfing" the Net, I guess you can say I waded into the water along the shore, just up to my knees. But, before I tell you what I found, let me back up and relate all of this to periodontics.

A too familiar routine

Over the years, patients have suggested that I just stop by their house every morning on my way to work. They think I ought to brush their teeth for them, since I am so much better at it than they are. It`s the old "just do it for me" idea. In addition, I really got tired of telling patient after patient how to brush. Not just patient after patient, but the same patient time after time.

Don`t get me wrong. I really enjoy teaching people how to take care of their teeth and gums. But it was the repetition that got to me.

It was fun to tell people all kinds of little things to improve their technique. "Start on the inside, point the bristles into the gums, brush back and forth, be careful when you turn a corner, line the brush up along the inside teeth on the top, make sure the handle comes out by the top front teeth, remember to brush behind the last tooth in each corner, and remember to also brush your tongue."

Not only did I talk about bristle placement and brush movement, I also showed them how the grasp changed as they moved through the mouth. The position of the thumb on the back of the handle when brushing the lingual surfaces of the maxillary teeth was stressed, as well as the exact angle of the wrist for each area.

I got so detailed that, as I went through the day talking to each and every patient, I would begin to feel like a tape recording. Of course, it was an innovative and personalized tape, but a tape nonetheless. By mid-afternoon, halfway through the instructions, I would wonder, "Did I already go over this point with him, or was that the last patient?"

If I were interrupted for any reason, I was lost, having no idea what I had already said.

Jazz or classical? Red or blue?

That`s when I decided it would be great to have an oral hygiene aerobics tape for patients. With a tape, patients would have ideal instructions every time they brushed. At first, I thought about a small tape player in the bathroom. Of course, it was designed to look like a smiling mouth with white teeth and perfect red lips. The tape would be inserted right through the teeth. It was a great idea, but that`s all it was - an idea.

With more exposure to the world of computer chips, I revised my idea, having the music and brushing instructions coming from a computer chip in the toothbrush handle. After picking a toothbrush to match the color decor of the bathroom, people would also choose the most appropriate music for their brushing. Should it be pop, country western, jazz, or classical?

The idea came from seeing greeting cards with the computer chip inside that plays, "Happy Birthday." It also came from those awful ties my husband wears at Christmas that play "Jingle Bells" when you push the right spot. If they can put music into a greeting card or a tie, surely they could put music and brushing instructions into a toothbrush. If not in toothbrushes as we know them, then why not in a handle which would allow for the insertion of a regular toothbrush - much like a bicycle handlebar grip?

Well, there you have my idea, a personal oral hygiene trainer for each and every person. Since I didn`t have the money to pursue this idea, I wasn`t keeping it a secret. I was telling anyone who would listen in the hope that someone would steal my idea and actually do something with it. I talked to toothbrush companies as well as anyone who might want to part with some hard-earned cash for what I thought was a great idea. Unfortunately, I was the only one who thought it was such a terrific idea.

It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I entered the mysterious world of the Internet and found an ad for the "Brush Along Song" for kids. I was thinking of a tape for adults, since my focus is periodontics, but starting with kids would be great prevention. I clicked on the toothbrush character and was delighted to hear 17 seconds of the two-minute kid`s tape. It was great - even better than I had conjured up in my imagination.

The "Brush Along Song" tape is the brainchild of Alicia Erick, an Orlando, Fla., mom. The frustration of trying to get her five-year-old daughter, Kiana, to brush her teeth led to the tape`s development. It sounds simple, but Kiana is now 10 years old! As you might expect, money was a barrier. Producing a high-quality tape is quite costly.

First came the lyrics. Alicia`s husband Mitchell tackled that job with the help of ADA pamphlets and input from the family dentist and dental hygienist. The lyrics begin with how much toothpaste to put on the brush and then evolve into the actual brushing technique. Toothbrush placement and motion is detailed. The timing is designed to ensure brushing all areas of the mouth equally. Based on the dental hygienist`s input, tongue brushing is also part of the tape.

Then came the music composition. The Ericks have a friend in California in the music business. The friend composed several samples and allowed them to choose the best one. Lead singers were auditioned until the right one was selected. With that done, the music and lyrics had to be professionally recorded. Finally, a graphic artist was hired to design the cassette cover.

Test marketing was done with the kids in the neighborhood. The kids loved it! Their moms were absolutely delighted with the results. No more nagging to get the kids to brush and to brush right!

Kids use the tape with every brushing at first. Once they actually learn the proper sequence and realize how long they should brush, the effects spill over to times when they brush without the tape. Alicia found that her own brushing improved as a result of researching and designing the tape - a nice side effect!

I still have hopes for an oral hygiene aerobics tape or computer chip for adults. But who knows? Maybe the "Floss Along Song" will be next.

Trisha E. O`Hehir, RDH, is a senior consulting editor of RDH. She also is editor of Perio Reports, a newsletter for dental professionals that addresses periodontics.