12 January 2022

On tonight's episode of the Apprentice, the teams must design an electric toothbrush aimed at children aged between six and eight, as well as an accompanying app that encourages them to brush their teeth.

Twice daily toothbrushing with a fluoride toothpaste is important for children because it removes plaque. If the plaque isn't removed, it continues to build up, causing tooth decay and gum disease.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, nearly half (43%) of children aged eight have signs of tooth decay.1

Electric toothbrushes can remove up to twice as much plaque as a manual brush, so it could be seen as a good investment for your child to have one. 

Despite the benefits, only one-in-two (53%) children in the UK use an electric toothbrush.2

In line with this week's task on The Apprentice, the Oral Health Foundation have released their top five must have design features for electric toothbrushes.  Let’s see how many of these the two teams can get right.

Head size and bristles

The most important element of a children’s toothbrush is the size of the head and the type of bristles it uses.  The ideal children’s toothbrush should have a small head with soft bristles, suitable for the age of your child.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, says: “Children’s mouths are small so it’s the size of the toothbrush head must be able to fit into their mouth.

"It means they are able to reach all the areas they need for a good and proper clean.

"Soft, nylon bristles are important because children have a habit of scrubbing their teeth too hard, which might harm their enamel and gums. The soft bristles ensure a good clean while also protecting their mouth from damage.”

The handle and grip

The handle of a children’s toothbrush is really important because a good grip can help them clean their teeth more effectively.  Some more colourful designs can also help to motivate children into brushing twice a day.

“The handle of a toothbrush is easy to overlook but a great deal of research goes into them. They can be straight or curved, be smooth or have ridges,” adds Dr Carter.

“No matter what type of handle the toothbrush has, it must be able to fit into their hand.

"A comfortable grip on the toothbrush helps a child’s dexterity and allows them to manoeuvre the toothbrush into every corner of their mouth.  This makes brushing easier and more effective.”

Pressure sensors 

Pressure sensors let you know when you are brushing too hard.  This often comes in the form of a warning light that appears on the handle, when too much force is applied.

Dr Carter says: “Not all children’s toothbrushes have pressure sensors on them, so it is a good idea to shop around and look for ones that do.

"Children who brush too hard might do damage to their teeth and gums.  A pressure sensor would be able to reassure you and the child that they are applying the right amount of pressure and using the toothbrush correctly.

“If you need any help with brushing technique, speak to your dentist.  They will also be able to offer you advice about which toothbrush is the best for your child.”

Characters and colours

Research by the Oral Health Foundation shows that many children prefer electric toothbrushes simply because it has a popular character on it.  These characters are often stickers that are applied to the toothbrush which can be swapped whenever needed.

Dr Carter says: “Toothbrushes with television, film or cartoon characters makes brushing fun for children and can be a great motivator.

"It is far from unusual for parents to face reluctance from their children when it comes to daily brushing.

"Picking a toothbrush that is in their favourite colour, or character on, can go a long way to instilling good habits.”   

Timers and apps

Many children’s toothbrushes now come with two-minute timers.  These are either in-built into the handle, are a clock or sand timer you can place in the bathroom, or connected by a mobile app.

There are lots of free apps for parents to download on their phones that can help make brushing fun for children.  Adding this extra level of interactivity can help children with better brushing habits.

“Dentists and parents recommend toothbrushing apps for children because they help encourage better behaviours around teeth cleaning,” says Dr Carter.

“Many apps involve collectables that ask children to log in twice a day. This helps them develop daily brushing habits.

"Some include timers or songs that help children stick around for the full two minutes, while others provide fun, instructional videos about brushing technique.”

More information about looking after a child’s oral health can be found on the Oral Health Foundation’s website at www.dentalhealth.org.

  1. NHS Digital (2015) ‘Child Dental Health Survey 2013, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’, online at https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/children-s-dental-health-survey/child-dental-health-survey-2013-england-wales-and-northern-ireland
  2. ORAL HEALTH FOUNDATION (2019) ‘National Smile Month Oral Health Survey’, UK. Sample 1,525.