Does anyone enjoy flossing? Wrapping that little string around your fingers, cutting off circulation, trying to get around every tooth—it’s really an annoying process, and one a lot of people avoid despite the threat of gum disease.
Enter Lisa Guenst of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, a veteran dental hygienist who has come up with a unique device for brushing, flossing and massaging gums—all while in the shower.
Guenst’s ToothShower, which was developed with the help of her mechanical-engineer son, is due to go into production in January, following a two-month process to get the tooling done for the plastic injection molds. First deliveries are expected to go out in May, and online sales should begin then as well.
“Flossing is only effective when people do it every day and do it correctly. But that’s the problem: People don’t do it every day, and they don’t do it correctly,” Guenst said.
In fact, at least 32 percent of adults in the U.S. admit that they don’t floss at all, according to a CDC study published in 2016. Relying on data collected between 2009 and 2012 from 9,000 American adults, the CDC also found that another 37 percent don’t floss daily, as dentists recommend.
Guenst’s invention differs from devices like a Waterpik and the various power toothbrushes because it doesn’t use electricity or batteries. Instead, a diverter is attached to the showerhead and water pressure does all the work. The device is attached to the shower wall, ending clutter and mess on the countertop. ToothShower is expected to retail for $129.
Guenst, who hopes to get on “Shark Tank,” said this is the perfect time to introduce her product.
“The dental industry is really growing,” she said. “Everyone agrees it needs new and innovative ways of doing things. People are so concerned about their smiles now and water flossing is just so effective. People just need an easier way to do it.”
While the American Dental Association has said there’s little evidence flossing that is effective—largely because of a lack of studies on the issue and a concern about small sample sizes in existing studies—the ADA does recommend that people clean between their teeth once a day. The group, which does not endorse specific products, has said toothpicks, water flossers and other devices that clean between teeth could be just as effective as traditional flossing with dental tape.
Steven R. Daniel, president of the American Association of Periodontology, said in an email that removing “plaque and debris from the surface of the teeth, between the teeth, and below the gum line is essential to keeping periodontal disease at bay.”
He also said that water flossing devices may be particularly useful for people who wear orthodontic devices or have other dental restorations—or simply struggle with the mechanics of flossing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly half of Americans age 30 and older, or 64.7 million people, have some form of periodontal disease. That proportion increases to 70.1 percent among those 65 and older. The condition is more common among men, those living below the federal poverty level, those with less than a high school education and smokers.
“People don’t like it. It’s not easy to do. … I wanted to come up with an easy, enjoyable way to clean between teeth where gum disease starts,” said Guenst, adding that brushing gets only two-thirds of the tooth surface. “Flossing is archaic.”
Brian Orme, of the design engineering firm Design Lynx, which did the heavy lifting in terms of getting the product ready for market, said he tried out various prototypes of the device and is sold on its effectiveness.
“I have three small children, ages 7, 5 and 9 months. My wife and I over the years have been trying to get our children and ourselves to floss more frequently,” Orme said. “With traditional flossing devices, it’s almost impossible to get kids to use them routinely and properly.”
But, he said, “with the theme of water flossing, we’ve been able to increase compliance.”
In working out the design challenges for ToothShower, Orme said he used a variety of products available in the marketplace to learn about the pros and cons. The countertop devices proved too messy, especially with small children around (water fights, anyone?). In fact, he said, the 7-year-old likes to clean the shower with it.
“With the [Toothshower] system, it doesn’t matter if there’s any overspray because you’re already in the shower,” he said. “It’s just a better routine.”
There were two design issues that were tough to overcome, Orme noted. The first was adding a feature to incorporate mouthwash at the touch of a button. The other was accounting for varying water pressure in homes.
“The adjustable pressure dial on the console is a nice feature, especially for younger users and those with sensitive gums,” he said.
Guenst said her idea has gotten a lot of support in the dental hygiene community and also has been a hit on Kickstarter. Her original goal was to raise $25,000. Since the page went up at the beginning of October, she’s raised more than four times that amount.
Guenst is confident that once people start using ToothShower, which also has a double-sided toothbrush attachment and a seven-headed gum massager, they’ll be hooked.
“There is a way for people to see the benefit. When they go in for their six-month checkup, their gums will be healthier. It speaks for itself. They’ll feel the benefit,” she said.