The next big thing? Dental apps

Ben Underwood considers how applications are an everyday smart part of oral health care and not just glorified egg timers!

What is an app?

In information technology, an application (app) is a computer programme designed to help people perform an activity.

How many people use apps?

In March this year, Apple announced that 25 billion apps had been downloaded from its App Store by users of more than 315 million iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices worldwide. The App Store offers apps to users in 123 countries in 21 categories including games, business, news, sports and health and fitness.

The android equivalent to the App Store is the new Google Play Store, which recently replaced the Android Market. More than 300 million android devices are currently in use worldwide and another six million are activated each week. The store has had more than 13 billion apps downloaded so far.

Why use a toothbrush timer?

On average, people brush for 45 seconds rather than the recommended two minutes. Brushing time is the most easily controlled parameter of effective everyday brushing. Twice daily toothbrushing, with fluoride toothpaste, is perhaps the single most important step an individual can take to reduce plaque accumulation and the consequent risk of plaque-associated diseases, such as periodontitis and caries.

Why have a toothbrush timer app when most electric toothbrushes have timers?

The most recent Adult Dental Health Survey reported that only 26% of those surveyed used an electric toothbrush. In the UK, more than 50% of young people aged between 12 and 15 now own a smartphone/iPod Touch and 50.3% of the British population own a smartphone.

Are toothbrush timer apps just glorified egg timers?

While many toothbrush timer apps currently available are just basic timers, a few have harnessed the power of mobile devices to deliver much more.

Some allow reminders to be set to:

• See a dental health professional at appropriate intervals

• Clean interdentally every day – currently only 21% of people use dental floss (11% of those aged 16-24)

• Brush twice a day – 59% of women regularly skip brushing their teeth at bedtime, compared 35% of men. Twelve year olds who brush ‘once a day or less’ or ‘never’ had the highest levels of caries and those who reportedly brushed ‘twice daily’ or ‘more than twice daily’ had the lowest levels of caries

• Use a mouthrinse at a different time to brushing

• Change the toothbrush/electric toothbrush head every 3 months – on average Britons change their toothbrush every 7.5 months.

Also, the latest oral health information can be included in a format that people can read at their leisure.

Should dental professionals be recommending toothbrush timers apps to their patients?

All dental professionals have an ethical responsibility to prevent dental disease rather than just manage its consequences. Toothbrush timer apps are a useful motivational tool for dental professionals to recommend to their patients and the table below gives a comparison of the top five currently available.

• Brush DJ has recently gone live in the Google Play Store – click here

• References available on request

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