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The Electric Toothbrush: A Disability Innovation

Inventions originally intended for the Disabled community

by Romla Kadir

A note from our Managing Editor, Hebatullah Issa

“Necessity is the mother of invention” and you may not realize it but disability innovation is all around us. Inventions and adaptations that were created to make the world more accessible to disabled people and were mainstreamed, proving that accessibility does benefit larger society. Innovations like curb cuts- imagine having to lug your suitcase around New York City without curb cuts. The hassle of lifting your heavy suitcase at every curb– My weak arms could never… Or the telephone that originated from ear phonautograph technology that was meant for deaf education. You may even be reading this article on your phone right now, but did you know those early innovations were disability innovations?

For Disability Pride Month, Juniper Unlimited will share insights into disability innovations that have influenced history. Follow us on Instagram to learn more about disability justice and history.

Did you know the electric toothbrush was originally made with the disabled community in mind? I’ve been using an electric toothbrush for the past couple of years and while it did take me some time to get used to the odd feeling of vibrations, I like it as I can rely on it to clean my teeth and gums much better than a manual toothbrush. Muscle weakness, from my muscular dystrophy, means that I sometimes find it challenging to use the right amount of pressure while manually brushing, especially when I have just woken up in the morning.

Likewise, a friend of mine has Dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder, and has switched from a manual toothbrush to an electric toothbrush because on more than one occasion she has hit herself in the gums while trying to brush her teeth. An electric toothbrush is able to take care of that motion for her. And we’re not the only ones who have made the switch.

Today it is estimated that nearly 131.43 million people in the U.S use an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes are also rapidly growing in popularity in the UK as well, with an estimated two in three adults making the switch from manual toothbrushes to electric toothbrushes.

It all started in the 1950s when the electric toothbrush was developed and proven to be better for our oral hygiene than manual toothbrushes. In 1954, Dr. Phillippe-G Woog invented the first modern electric toothbrush in Switzerland and by 1959 the U.S. brand “Broxodent” hit the shelves.

Today it is estimated that nearly 131.43 million people in the U.S use an electric toothbrush.

The electric toothbrush was intended for and created with disabled people living with motor skill-related disabilities, as well as orthodontic patients with braces. Some disabled people find it challenging to exert the necessary amount of pressure while brushing and may find it tiring. And as the benefits of using electric toothbrushes grew apparent, they were quickly produced for the mass market and became mainstream household favorites.

Since the 1960s, electric toothbrushes have improved by providing varying speeds, pressures, brushing techniques, and the use of rechargeable batteries. Did you know that oscillating (rapid back and forth rotations) and sonic (using vibration technology) are the two most popular types of electric toothbrushes?

Though electric toothbrushes have been mainstreamed and become more affordable to disabled people, developers continue to make advancements in keeping our pearly whites feeling minty fresh and clean. The Oral Clean G100, the world’s first electric suction brush, was created in 2018 with the caregiver in mind to assist disabled people in brushing their teeth. The suction function can remove fluid from the mouth without spitting being required. And while these innovations improve the experience of caregivers and those being assisted, these electric brushes are sold for a whopping $349, making this unaffordable for many disabled people. Could this new suction function technology in electric toothbrushes become mainstream in the near future, lowering the price and hence making it affordable to the disabled community?

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