Chicago Tribune

Give your teeth the 2-minute drill – or the other kind

Julie Deardorff

May 15, 2005

First, it was our grimy hands that needed more attention. So health experts suggested singing a 20-secomd ditty like “Happy Birthday” to get people to lather up for longer periods.

Now it’s the teeth that need more quality time. Most dentists say the important issue is not whether you use a cheap manual toothbrush or an expensive one that rotates, oscillates and vibrates, It’s how long – and how thoroughly – you massage your pearly whites.

For most people, the teeth cleaning ritual that dates to ancient Babylonia takes about one minute: 30 seconds on the top teeth and 30 seconds on the bottom. Parents spend about 14 frustrating seconds trying to force their squirming children to brush, said Dr. Cindy Flanagan, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry.

But the rule of thumb these days, according to the Academy, is that it’s best to brush for a whopping two minutes, about the time it took Giacomo to win this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Two minutes is nothing when you are watching a horse race. But when you’ve got your toddler in a headlock, it’s an eternity.

Oral hygiene companies, which love statistics like “two minutes,” have rushed to the rescue. Both electric and manual toothbrushes now come equipped with two-minute timers that can challenge the most competitive brusher and lay a guilt tip on the cheaters.

Some, like the OraWave Musical 2-minute Twinspin toothbrush ($6.99), rewards brushers by playing a song after two minutes. The Panasonic Techno Toothbrush ($99.99), which uses sonic vibrations to clean teeth, stops briefly after two minutes of use, whether you’re done or not. The company Inventive Parent has created a tooth-shaped Twooth Timer ($9.95) that rings after two minutes.

And this fall, the toy company Hasbro plans to unveil Tooth Tunes (under $10), a high tech toothbrush that can transmit a two-minute rendition of “Do You Believe in Magic” through the front teeth to the jawbone and directly into the inner ear.

Being a low-tech kind of gal, I decided to try the Intelligent Toothbrush by Radius, a $5.95 manual toothbrush that obediently beeps every 30 seconds to remind you to move to a different part of the mouth. The sound is so soft that if the water is running, you can’t hear it, but that’s intentional, said designer Kevin Foley, president of Radius. Leaving the water on makes you rush.

After two minutes, the Intelligent Toothbrush beeps and flashes twice in approval. It’s designed for 180 uses, or 90 days, which is when dentists recommend changing the bristles, another often-overlooked aspect of oral hygiene.

The first time I used it, I couldn’t believe how long 30 seconds really was. After a minute, I was done. But I didn’t want to quit before the brush gave me permission, so I refreshed everything, including my tongue. And then I refreshed everything a third time.

Finally, after what felt like 10 minutes, I heard the double beep. Hurrah! A tiny feeling of accomplishment washed over me.

Perhaps I’m a bit too goal oriented, but I was instantly hooked on the challenge. Now, thanks to the timer, I’ve doubled the time I spend brushing my teeth, one of the simplest ways to preserve your health in general.

Most people know regular brushing and flossing help prevent cavities, gum disease and bad breath. But there is a growing awareness of the connection between the health of your mouth and the health of your body. Studies have linked gum disease with heart disease. Oral bacteria also has been associated with stroke, diabetes and the birth of pre-term, low-birth-weight babies, according to the American Dental Association.

Timers, of course, aren’t necessary, especially when they’re attached to a $160 battery operated toothbrushes. Take a regular $2.50 manual toothbrush and brush for the duration of a song on the radio. Brush for the length of several television commercials.

Spend the two minutes clenching your buttocks, an idea Kathie Lee Gifford perkily demonstrated years ago when she was still with Regis. Do pelvic floor exercises called Kegels.

Or try what stress-management expert Kathleen Hall, founder of Alter Your Life, uses with her impatient, frazzled clients: guided imagery for mindful tooth brushing.

Here’s what she tells people: “As you begin to brush your teeth, express gratitude for your teeth and what a gift they are to you. Your teeth are the gift of your smile. Your teeth have chewed up your food your entire life. Be grateful for your mouth.”

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