Dental duo aims to create the perfect toothbrush

For nearly 20 years, dental hygienist Mike Davidson has seen many patients with gum disease who didn’t know how to properly brush their teeth and gums. He found himself repeating the same lecture on good brushing technique, until he was struck with a flash of inspiration.

What if he invented a toothbrush that trained people to use good technique? In 2007, he built a clay model in his garage and showed it to his business partner, dentist Mike Smith.

That began a seven-year mission to create the perfect toothbrush, in which the Houston-area duo obsessed over every nuance of the common hygiene tool. They scrutinized head angles, bristle types, bristle lengths, handle designs and thumb grips. They went through years of engineering, manufacturing and flops.

In November of last year, Davidson and Smith finally launched their patented MD Brush for online sales. It’s chalked up about 1,200 customers to date, a trifle in the $5 billion global toothbrush market dominated by stalwarts like Oral-B.

But the story of MD Brush is less about sales and more about two guys passionate about solving a major health problem. Smith and Davidson are the latest profile on Microsoft’s Instagram page, a celebration of people who break boundaries, achieve goals and #DoMore.

“Our whole premise is changing the behavior of brushing,” says Davidson. “It’s a game changer in that we’re trying to educate people and give them the same education we give them in the dental practice.”

Periodontal disease affects nearly half of all Americans aged 30 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It ranges from gingivitis (mildly inflamed gums) to severe infections that cause tooth and bone loss. It’s been linked to heart disease, diabetes, strokes and other serious medical issues.

In response, manufacturers have created toothbrushes armed with timers, cushy handles and lavish bristles. There are now brushes with gum-massaging options and Bluetooth transmitters for viewing brushing data on your phone.

‘Changing the behavior of brushing’

The MD Brush forgoes high-end machinery and focuses on human alignment. It features a diamond-shaped grip that angles bristles at 45 degrees to the teeth and gums, the recommendation of most dentists. The toothbrush head, also designed for a 45-degree angle, has a row of longer, tapered bristles to help clean out food and bacteria around and under the gum line.

Davidson and Smith say the $10 brush isn’t just a toothbrush, but a training tool that teaches people proper positioning. They also say brushing can be a swift 45 seconds instead of the oft-recommended two minutes – if the technique is good.

“It’s like having good kung fu,” says Davidson. “If your kung fu is good and you’ve got good technique, it’s easy.”

Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry plan to study the MD Brush, with a look at how well it removes bacteria and plaque compared with a standard manual toothbrush.

“It’s one of those ideas that, when I saw it, I thought, ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’” says Ruth Conn, an assistant clinical professor in the school’s Department of Periodontics and Dental Hygiene. Conn, a longtime dental hygienist who’s coordinating the study, says many patients have a hard time brushing at a 45-degree angle and that the toothbrush’s ergonomic design could help.

‘Trials and tribulations’

For Smith and Davidson, the toothbrush has been a lesson in perseverance. There were two failed designs, including one that called for a toothbrush that squirted mouthwash at the gums. Then there was a manufacturer in China that didn’t work out. A prototype that was too big. There were thousands of dollars wasted and years spent learning how to be an inventor.

“Trials and tribulations,” says Smith. Adds Davidson, with a laugh: “We know a hell of a lot more than we did then.”

Helping them along the way have been Microsoft tools Windows 8, Outlook and Office. You can learn more about Davidson and Smith on Microsoft’s Instagram page.

Vanessa Ho
Microsoft News Center Staff