Timing is everything

April 1, 2007
Time is a very precious commodity. Many patients claim they have a minuscule supply of that commodity when it comes to home care.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

Time is a very precious commodity. Many patients claim they have a minuscule supply of that commodity when it comes to home care. Finding the time to implement dental products into the daily routine appears to be challenging. After all, there are only so many hours in a day, and vying for those hours are countless personal hygiene issues - bathing, manicures, cosmetic makeup. We can become indignant about their questioning of what makes the teeth and oral tissues so important to make home care a time management priority. Instead, how about flexing some facial muscles to form what is known as a smile.

A smile is one of the body’s ways of showing natural expression. We can easily explain how the time spent brushing teeth eliminates plaque, allowing the patient’s smile to become healthier.

But how long in duration do our patients brush? When the question is posed, the patient may comment, “I know I need to brush longer.”

However, brushing longer may not be what is truly needed or even advisable. Certain instances of tooth wear may contraindicate an extended brushing time especially when the patient has aggressive brushing habits. Toothbrush abrasion on weakened and fragile surfaces (many times caused by improper brushing techniques) will lead to sensitivity, possible tissue recession, and continued wearing away of tooth and exposed root structure. Good brushing techniques with less pressure and back-to-the-basics with a soft toothbrush and nonabrasive paste will place the patient in a holding pattern, helping to stabilize tissues. After all, brushing harder will not automatically remove bacterial plaque.

At some point in the recare visit, the patient will inevitably ask, “So how long should I brush?” How about this response? “As long as it takes to remove the bacterial plaque.” This reply is not always effective, especially when home-care recommendations are not routinely made and encouraged. Patients who need visual confirmation of plaque removal benefit from plaque disclosants - either rinses, solutions or tablets - with instructions for at-home assessment.

Working the toothbrush longer in the mouth may allow the patient more opportunity to be careful not to rush the brushing and missing plaque accumulations. A thorough brushing session affords the patient an opportunity to practice and master daily brushing techniques.

Grains of sand

To adequately maneuver brushes on the teeth does take time. With this in mind, toothbrush timers have earned a place in regard to being a tool used for home-care recommendations. Timers may be both simple and complex.

Simple timers are effective for showing minutes which pass during the brushing process. Most notable, sand timers are an easy and inexpensive way to introduce a timed brush method. The hourglass variety shows the sand sifting its way to the opposite end. Generally, these timers run for two minutes and are good for younger patients to flip over and use in a satisfactory way. The hourglass timers incorporate sand in many colors and can be imprinted with office information, logos, or personalized brushing reminders. The timers can be purchased in bulk quantities. They make great giveaways when visiting day-care centers or schools. Even if children regard the sand timers as toys, perhaps the fun involved with turning the timer will help the child to become familiarized with the time needed to adequately accomplish home care.

Designed for kids

Other timers are more elaborate and yet just as easy to use as the hourglass. One timer uses a concept designed more like a common kitchen cooking timer. How about a tooth-shaped timer that also brings fun to brushing? The Twooth Timer is simple to use. Just twist the top portion of the tooth’s white crown. After twisting, the timer begins ticking away the seconds and, when two minutes has passed, the timer will ring. The Twooth Timer does the countdown without the need of any batteries. Young brushers become accustomed to the length of time needed to brush when a timer is used regularly.

When patients are excited about a brushing product, it behooves the clinician to take note. In once case, the musical note comes in the form of a musical brushing stool, which plays a tune to brush by. Munchkin’s Mac the Smart stool has a non-slip, smiley face, which the young brusher steps upon to get a step closer to the sink. The stool teaches skills to the brusher like their ABCs and counting and does this in two languages - English and Spanish. When the child presses on the happy tooth button on the stool’s front, the interactive stool counts down 60 seconds while the child does the toothbrushing.

Power toothbrushes

Timers are incorporated into some adult brushes as well. The Oral-B AdvancePower brush highlights a stop/go timer. This timer will alert the brusher by signaling after every minute the brush is activated. The Oral-B Vitality line offers a rotating or sonic-type head with timer. Sonicare’s brush has a programmable timer that will shut off by design when the brusher reaches the two-minute mark. Sonicare’s brushes have a Quadpacer that is programmable, allowing the brusher to become aware of quadrant brushing by providing signals during the cycle. The program also lets the brusher extend the brushing session by another 30 seconds (2 1/2 minutes) to work on oral areas needing more attention.

Toothbrush timers can become an educational tool for the brushers who rush to brush. The timers may be inexpensive to more elaborate, all while counting down seconds of completed oral brushing. Consider how stepping up the brushing time is easy and fun for the patient. Healthy smiles are a facial expression few will frown upon.

The author did not receive compensation for products mentioned. For timely fun, visit www.smilemakers.com, www.twoothtimer.com, www.oralb.com, or www.sonicare.com.

Karen Kaiser, RDH, graduated from St. Louis’ Forest Park dental hygiene program in 1994 and currently practices at the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill. She has written several articles for RDH and other publications, sits on dental hygiene panels, and is an evaluator for Clinical Research Associates. She can be contacted at [email protected].