The present invention relates to improved toothbrushes and methods of brushing.
It is generally recognized that many problems with dental hygiene can be minimized by better brushing techniques and methods. However, despite numerous attempts to address these problems, various limitations exist with respect to all presently known systems and methods.
Proper dental hygiene is an important aspect of our lives today. While tooth decay is not life threatening and is highly preventable, it affects most people to some degree during their lifetime. Tooth decay occurs when teeth are frequently exposed to foods containing carbohydrates (starches and sugars) like soda and candy, or even fruits and vegetables. Natural bacteria live in the mouth and form plaque. This plaque interacts with deposits left on teeth from sugary and starchy foods to produce acids. These acids damage tooth enamel over time by dissolving, or de-mineralizing, the mineral structure of teeth, producing tooth decay and weakening the teeth.
The acids formed by plaque can be counteracted by simple saliva in the mouth, which acts as a buffer and re-mineralization agent. However, though it is the body's natural defense against tooth decay, saliva alone is not sufficient to combat tooth decay. It is generally recognized that the best way to prevent tooth decay is to brush regularly. To rebuild the early damage caused by plaque bacteria, fluoride is used to help re-mineralize the tooth structure. Fluoride, in addition to being added to the water people drink, is added to toothpaste to fight cavities and clean teeth.
As mentioned above, the best way to combat tooth decay is to brush after every meal. To this end, toothbrushes and toothpastes come in all shapes, colors, flavors and sizes, all promising to perform better at minimizing tooth decay and improve the brushing process. However, despite these efforts, tooth decay remains a pressing and unresolved problem. One main reason is that most people don't brush or visit dentists as frequently as suggested. Another reason is that many people don't brush for a long enough period of time because they are too lazy, too busy, or because they just lose track of time. This problem is compounded in children who, as a group, particularly dislike brushing. Most people brush less than a minute; but to effectively reach all areas and scrub off cavity-causing bacteria, it is recommended to brush for two to three minutes.
Problems also arise because most people don't replace their toothbrush with any degree of regularity or frequency. This is often the result of forgetfulness or inattentiveness, as well as cheapness. Most people simply don't track their purchases of new toothbrushes nor do they want to replace a toothbrush that can arguably still be used. For toothbrushes without replaceable heads, replacing the bristles requires replacing the toothbrush in its entirety. However, not only are worn toothbrushes ineffective, but they may harbor harmful bacteria that can cause infection such as gingivitis and periodontitis. Thus, it is suggested that toothbrushes be changed when the bristles become splayed and frayed, or approximately every three to four months.
Various methods have been developed to deal with these two latter factors. For example, in dealing with the issue of toothbrush replacement, one common method is to use dye impregnated bristles or a colored bristle sheath, both of which help show signs of wear. However, these systems are imprecise and easily ignored. Another method, shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,735,802, involves a power toothbrush that measures that number of accumulated oscillations/strokes during use. When this number exceeds a specified parameter, the user is notified that the brush head should be replaced. While helpful, this system is less useful for most common toothbrushes which don't include replaceable brush heads. It also involves costly and sophisticated circuitry and components. With respect to the issue of proper brushing length, various systems are known, such as the systems described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,483,726, some of which provide some indication to a user when a selected or pre-determined period of time has elapsed. However, these systems, while perhaps indicating to the user the completion of an elapsed time, do not provide constant updates and information to the user on the timing and/or progress of the brushing process.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Hence, there is a need for an improved brushing system and method for guiding the user with respect to the proper amount of time for brushing of teeth, as well as the proper time to replace worn or unhealthy toothbrush bristles.
In accordance with a first aspect of the invention, a method for indicating to a user of a toothbrush, an elapsed brushing time and a recommended brushing time using the toothbrush, comprises the steps of:
(a) providing a toothbrush having a timer element and a switch for operating the timer;
(b) initiating the timer upon an initiation of the switch by the user;
(c) determining an elapsed brushing time;
(d) indicating to the user the elapsed brushing time;
(e) determining when the recommended brushing time has elapsed; and
(f) indicating to the user that the recommended brushing time has elapsed.
In accordance with another aspect of the invention, there is provided a method for indicating to a user of a toothbrush, a recommended time for replacing a head portion of the toothbrush, the method comprising the steps of:
(a) providing a timer element within the toothbrush, wherein the timer is initiated by the user upon each use of the toothbrush by the user;
(b) determining an elapsed number of timer initiations;
(c) determining whether the elapsed number of timer initiations exceeds a predetermined replacement parameter; and
(d) providing an indication to the user when the elapsed number of timer initiations exceeds the replacement parameter.
In accordance with yet another aspect of the invention, there is provided a toothbrush comprising a head portion and a handle portion:
(a) the head portion further comprising a plurality of bristles, at least one of the bristles radiating outwardly from a first head surface, the head portion being removably coupled to the handle portion such that the head portion can be attached to the handle portion during use and can be removed from the handle portion for replacement;
(b) the handle portion further comprising a timer element and a use meter.
- BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
These and other aspects, features and arrangements of the invention can be appreciated from the accompanying Drawings and Detailed Description of an Exemplary Embodiment.
FIGS. 1 a-1 c are side and isometric views of an improved toothbrush according to a preferred embodiment of the invention;
FIGS. 2 a-2 d are top, side, front and isometric views of a replacement brush head according to a preferred embodiment of the invention;
FIGS. 3 a-3 b are isometric views showing the connection of a removable brush head to a brush handle according to a preferred embodiment of the invention; and
- DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF A PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
FIG. 4 is an internal view of a brush handle showing various internal components according to one aspect of the present invention.
By way of overview and introduction, the present invention provides for an improved toothbrush and methods of brushing utilizing a toothbrush having a replaceable head, a timer and/or a use meter which measures the number of times a user utilizes the timer device, and one or more status indicators. Through the use of the present system, dental hygiene can be improved by helping to guide the user to brush his or her teeth using the toothbrush for a desirable amount of time as well as properly replaces the bristles on the head of the toothbrush at specified intervals corresponding to expected and undesirable wear.
A preferred embodiment of the improved toothbrush is now described by way of example. FIGS. 1 a-1 c provide side and isometric views of an improved toothbrush 100 according to a first embodiment of the present invention. The toothbrush 100 includes a handle 170 and a replaceable head 150. According to one aspect of the invention, the head 150 may include a section made of a transparent or translucent material such that if light is emitted from a light source within the handle portion 170 of the brush, it can be seen by the user through the head portion 150 and provide visual notifications to the user. Preferably, the brush 100 is constructed such that the handle 170 can be used for an extended period of time with multiple replacement heads 150, which heads are replaced as the bristles become worn and used. The toothbrush, including the handle 170 and the head 150, may be constructed of any of a variety of known materials as are typically used in the art. For example, the handle 170 can be formed from two separate injection molded shell halves, such that a printed circuit board or other electronic components can be placed into one shell half, after which time, the shell halves can be sonic welded together and the welded shell halves can be overmolded in a thermoplastic elastomer.
The head 150 preferably includes an elongated shaft 155, a connector 160 at one end of the head 150, which connector 160 is removably connectable to the handle 170, and an upper surface 200. Ideally, the upper surface 200 is formed using as little material as possible so as not to interfere with the brushing process. One was to accomplish this without sacrificing the cleaning surface area providing by the bristles, is to include bristles which radiate outwardly from the upper surface 200 as will be discussed in more detail below. According to one embodiment, further illustrated in FIGS. 2 and 3, the connector 160 is insertable into, and seatable within a socket 175 in the handle 170. The connector 160 may be held in the socket 175 using friction or any of a variety of other known methods.
The upper surface 200 includes a plurality of bristles 250 for use in brushing teeth, some or all of which may radiate outwardly from the upper surface 200. The use of radiating bristles allows for the provision of a more substantial bristle tip area for a particular brush head size, thus making the brushing of teeth and gums easier by allowing for the use of a smaller upper surface 200. It may be desirable to have all of the bristles 250 radiating outwardly from the top surface 200, or instead, have only the exterior or interior groups of bristles radiate outwardly, depending on desired tooth cleaning characteristics. It will be appreciated that any of a variety of orientations of the bristles may be embodied within the scope of the present invention.
The top surface 200 includes a plurality of holes formed therein (not shown), which holes are sequentially bristled by the rotation of an automated turret around a particular axis. In this manner, the bristles are seated within the top surface at any desired orientation. Bristles of a uniform length, material and color may be provided or, alternatively, a variety of different bristle types, shapes and sizes may be utilized. Such bristles may be selected to reach and remove plaque from hard-to-reach places, specifically clean along the gum-line, or more effectively clean the different tooth surfaces and geometries. Preferably, thin DuPont Tynex® nylon bristles are used. The brush head 150 and the bristles 250 are illustrated in further detail in FIGS. 2 a-2 d. As can be seen in the figures, the bristles extend from the top surface in a radially outward direction, thus providing a greater brushing surface area while using less material to create the upper surface 200. The use of a larger bristle surface area using a smaller upper surface 200 is a large improvement from current systems.
The brush handle 170 is preferably shaped such that it can easily and comfortably gripped by a user. Additionally, other materials such as a rubber padding may be placed or formed on the exterior of the handle 170 to aid in this regard. Housed within the handle 170 are a printed circuit board and various electronic components which may include one or more of the following: a clock and timer element, a switch to operate the timer, a use counter, a visual indicator to the user (such as a light source), and audible indicator to the user (such as an alarm or musical playback device), a tactile indicator to the user (such as a vibrating element), and a power source for the internal electronic components (all of which are discussed in further detail below and illustrated in FIG. 4). To the extent that user indicators are included within the handle 170, these indicators are electronically coupled using known circuitry to the timer element and/or use counter so as to specifically provide notifications to the user with respect to such components. For example, a user can be notified by an audible alarm or visible light when the timer element has reached a specified time interval or when the use counter has reached a specified use parameter.
According to one embodiment, injection molded into or formed within the handle 170 is a button 300 for operating the timer. This button is electrically coupled to a switch 305 which operates the timer. While a user-pressable button is a preferred way for allowing user interaction with the switch 305, any of a variety of other known ways for allowing the user to implement the timer may instead be used. For example, the switch may be initiated by an audible command or a vibration of the handle 170. In operation, according to the preferred embodiment, the user may press the button 300 in order to start the clock timer immediately upon brushing his or her teeth. According to one aspect of the invention, a subsequent press of the button 300 by the user will stop the timer, which feature can be used to stop the timer when the user stops brushing. According to another aspect of the invention, the timer will automatically stop after a specified period of time. In this way, the user does not have to remember to press the button 300 again when he or she finishes brushing.
According to one embodiment, the handle 170 includes one or more light indicators 350 (one shown) such that the light from one or more internal light emitting diodes or other light sources within the handle 170 is viewable by a user. Preferably, the light indicator 350 is a transparent section or small clear bubble in the handle 170 such that light from the interior of the handle 170 can be seen outside the handle 170 by the user. According to one aspect of the invention, a plurality of light indicators may be included to provide a variety of different indications to a user. The light indicator 350 can be used to provide a variety of information to a user, such as indication that the user is to begin brushing, an indication that certain specified time intervals for brushing have elapsed, an indication that a recommended brushing time has elapsed, or an indication that the brush head 150 should be replaced. Handle 170 may also include an area 400 for providing branding or other information to the user.
The detachability of the brush head 150 from the brush handle 170 is shown in FIGS. 3 a-3 b. As discussed, the brush head 150 includes an elongated shaft 155 having a connector 160 at a lower end opposite from the bristles 250. The connector 160 is removably coupled to the handle 170 such that the head 150 can be connected to the handle 170 during use, and can be removed from the handle 170 as desired by the user. According to one embodiment, the connector 160 is sized and shaped to be received and sit within a socket 175 in the handle 170 using frictional forces. According to another embodiment, the connector 160 may include one or more grooved or extended portions which mate with opposing surfaces within the socket 175 in order to secure the head 155 to the handle 170. Alternatively, any of a variety of other known ways for securing the head 150 to the handle 170 may be used, provided that the head 150 and the handle 170 may be detached as desired by the user.
The head 155 and the handle 170 remain secured to one another during use. However, when the brush 100 is not being used, according to one aspect of the invention, a user may pull the head 150 away from the handle 170 by pulling on the head shaft 155 with a sharp tug or at an angle in order to detach the head 155. By doing so, the connector 160 is displaced from the socket 175. In this manner, a head 150 having bristles which are worn or are otherwise in need of replacement, can be removed from the handle 170 and replaced with a new head. According to the same aspect of the invention, the connector 160 of the new head 150 can be re-inserted into the socket 175, by a user pushing on the head 150 until a positive click is felt by the user, thus indicating that the head is fully seated within the handle 170 and can be used again for brushing.
Preferably, the head 150 should be replaced every 90 days. In order to provide guidance to a user as to when the current head 150 should be replaced, as well as to provide guidance to the user as to the timing of the brushing process, the brush 100 includes a clock and timer element and circuitry, an operation switch for the timer, and a power source for the timer. The brush 100 may also include a use counter connected to the timer. These components are preferably housed within the handle 170. The power source preferably includes three small button batteries 365. It has been found that such batteries will typically last through one year of use. According to one embodiment, the handle 170 includes mated housing sections which can be removed from one another to access the interior of the handle 170. In this way, the battery and/or other electronic components can be accessed, replaced, or fixed. Alternatively, if the battery is not replaceable, the handle 170 can simply be replaced once the battery is dead. According to another aspect of the invention, a rechargeable battery may be used as the power source and a connector 354 may be provided in the handle 170 such that the power source can be recharged by the user as needed. According to one aspect of the invention, the power source may be coupled to a light source 352, 354 or other user indicator, which can indicate to the user when the power source is operating and/or when the power source needs to be replaced.
Any of a variety of known timer and clock circuits can be used and are encompassed within the scope of the present invention. The timer and clock circuitry includes a switch 305 for initiating the timer, which switch is preferably triggered by a user pressing on a button 300 on the exterior of the handle 170. By depressing the button 300, the user can turn on or, according to another aspect of the invention, turn off the timer. The timer and clock circuitry can measure the elapsed time from the initiation of the timer as well as compare the elapsed time with specified time intervals. These time intervals may be pre-set in the brush 100 by the manufacturer, or, alternatively, the brush 170 may include simple and known software and one or more keys or buttons to allow the user to specify his or her own time intervals. The time intervals which may be utilized include, e.g., a time interval corresponding to the preferred total brushing time (currently believed by experts to be approximately two minutes) and various elapsed brushing time intervals, such as every fifteen or thirty seconds. In this way, the timer and clock components can track and provide notification, not only as to when the user should cease brushing, but also as to the current time in the brushing cycle.
In operation, immediately prior to beginning brushing, the user can depress the button 300 to initiate the timer. The timer/clock components may be coupled to one or more light sources 352, 354 within the handle 170. In this way, information as to the status of the timer/clock can be visually provided to the user. Alternatively, the timer/clock components can be coupled to a vibrating element, an audible alarm, or a music-playback system to provide auditory or tactile notice to the user. As the user brushes his or her teeth, the timer and clock components track the time that has elapsed since the timer was initiated and compare that time with the specified total brushing time and use intervals. As each use interval is reached, a notification can be provided to the user. For example, a green light can flash, a beep may sound, or the handle 170 may vibrate to indicate that the timer was initiated. As the user continues brushing, these notifications can be provided as each subsequent use interval is reached. Finally, as the timer and clock components note the occurrence of the recommended total brushing time, further notification can be provided to the user, such as an extended vibration of the handle 170, a longer or different type of alarm, or a pattern or sequence of visual cues (such as a flashing green light, an extended light, or a pattern of lights).
According to one aspect of the invention, the audible indicator may include musical playback or voice playback functions. For example, instead of an alarm, pre-recorded or downloaded music, or pre-recorded voice messages stored in the brush 100 can be played to the user at the specified notification periods. Alternatively, music or voice-message playback may begin when the timer is initiated and continue until the recommended total brushing time has elapsed, at which time, the music or voice playback will cease playing.
To this end, the music may be pre-recorded in the brush 100 by the manufacturer or the brush 100 may include electronic circuitry and storage capabilities such that music can be downloaded from a personal computer or the Internet using an input port 354 and stored in a memory device (not shown) within the handle 170. Any of a variety of known software and hardware for performing these downloading, storage and playback functions is encompassed within the spirit of the present invention. Alternatively, the brush 100 can include a voice recording button (not shown) on the handle 170, which button connects to known software and hardware for recording, storing and initiating playback of a personalized voice message. Once again, any of a variety of known software and hardware for performing these functions is encompassed within the spirit of the present invention. The advantage of this type of a system is that a user will be entertained and/or distracted while brushing his or her teeth, thus making the brushing process more enjoyable and go by faster, and further ensuring that the user completes brushing for the entire recommended brushing time. Additionally, such a system allows a user to personalize the brushing process, such as by providing personalized messages (e.g., “It's time to stop brushing Tom” or “You need to replace the brush head now Tom”) or personalized song selections (e.g., Beethoven's Fifth Symphony upon completion of the recommended brushing time).
As the user will come to expect and know the various types of indications provided, the user will be guided through the timing of the brushing process—knowing how long he or she has brushed, and the amount of brushing time remaining. Because the user is also notified as to when to stop brushing, the user is encouraged to continue brushing until this notification signal is provided. In this way, the brush 100 helps ensure that the user brushes for the proper amount of time and does not stop too early or continue too long.
Additionally, a use meter may be included within the handle 170 and electronically coupled to the switch of the timer and clock components. In this way, the use meter can track the number of times the switch (and thus the timer) is initiated. It is presumed that this corresponds to the number of times that the user has used the brush 100 to brush his or her teeth. The use meter may also be connected to one or more of the user notifications systems to provide notification to the user as to the status of the use counter. In operation, the use meter measures the number of user implementations of the timer and compares this with a predetermined use parameter. Once again, this use parameter may be pre-set by the manufacturer or set by the user. The use parameter corresponds to the number of uses of the brush 100, after which time it is expected that the bristles 250 will be worn and need to be replaced. It is currently believed that after one hundred and eighty uses, the bristles 250 should preferably be replaced. After the use meter reaches the use parameter, a notification can be provided to the user to replace the brush head 150. This notification may be a visual notification (such as a red LED), an audible notification (such as an alarm or a pre-recorded voice message) or a tactile notification (such as a vibration of the handle 170 in a specified manner). For each subsequent use, if the brush head 150 is not removed and replaced and the counter re-set, the user notification to replace the brush head will be provided. According to one aspect of the invention, once the head 150 is removed from the handle 170 and re-inserted, the use meter is automatically re-set to zero as a result of triggering a switch contained in the socket 175 (not shown) and, upon subsequent uses of the timer, the counter begins to count again until the use parameter is subsequently reached. According to another aspect of the invention, for each use after the use parameter has been reached, instead of the visual, audible, or tactile notification typically provided at the use intervals and recommended brushing time, a distinct notification is given until the button 300 is held down for a certain period of time, thus re-setting the counter to zero.
For example, according to one embodiment, a single green light may be provided upon initiation of the timer and upon each use interval, and a flashing green light may be provided after the recommended brushing time has elapsed. After one-hundred-eighty uses of the timer, a single red light may be provided the next time the timer is initiated and upon each use interval, and a flashing red light may be provided after the recommended brushing time has elapsed. In this way, the user is still provided guidance as to the recommended brushing time but is also informed that he or she should replace the brush head 150. After replacing the brush head 150, the user may hold down the button 300 for five seconds, after which time the counter is re-set to zero. Upon the next initiation of the timer, a single green light will again be provided to indicate timer initiation and each use interval.
While the invention has been described in connection with an exemplary embodiment thereof, it is not so limited in scope but rather is defined by the recitations in the following claims and equivalents thereof.