In our quest for longevity and wellness, oral care is often overlooked. In fact, the WHO Global Oral Health Status Report (2022) estimated that oral diseases, which are primarily preventable affect close to 3.5 billion people worldwide. Stateside, more than 1 in 4 U.S. adults have untreated dental cavities, according to oral health data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, nearly half of adults 30 and older have signs of gum disease, and 13 percent of youths ages 5 to 19 have untreated tooth decay.
While oral conditions may be viewed separately from other chronic conditions, poor oral health can lead to a host of diseases including diabetes and heart disease, for example. Many oral health issues can be prevented with proper tooth brushing and flossing, which should be done twice a day for two minutes to remove plaque and bacteria that can lead to breaking down the tooth enamel. However, the Academy of General Dentistry shows studies that Americans on average only spend 45-70 seconds a day, which could be part of the problem.
When you consider oral health concerns for those who have disabilities—whether physical, behavioral, sensory, or developmental, brushing teeth properly presents even more challenges. Samba, a new, recently launched robotic toothbrush aims to address this disparity and make good oral care accessible to all, regardless of ability.
“Originally, we created Samba to make brushing teeth more effective and effortless, not necessarily targeted towards people with disabilities. However, after having a few thousand units tested in the market, the overwhelming responses from people with disabilities who found the product life changing made us pivot and address Samba firstly to them,” shares Steffen Mueller, Managing Director, Curaden USA, the parent company of Swiss-based CURAPROX. “While there are some toothbrushes in the market that are targeted towards people with disabilities, they address more specific issues (such as having a suction feature) rather than addressing the main issue, which is the inability to brush their teeth effectively. Samba is the first toothbrush to address the core problem.”
Mueller tells me that the main issues that those who have disabilities struggle with while brushing their teeth and that Samba addresses include motor movement, fatigue, lack of control or pressure, and grip issues. “For people with physical or mental disabilities, this can be a huge challenge, leading to poor oral health. But there is also the lack of understanding of how and where to brush your teeth. Not cleaning in between teeth allows plaque to build up quickly, covering about 30% of the tooth surface,” Mueller tells me. “Also, the understanding of using the right technique and tools for people with implants and wearing orthodontic appliances is important to avoid the growth of plaque and keep proper oral hygiene.”
“Many people are unable to maneuver a toothbrush effectively, whether because of physical or mental disabilities. Samba requires no hand movement for brushing teeth other than holding the brush,” explains Mueller. “People, especially with autism, are unable to control the pressure they apply when brushing teeth, resulting in irreparable damage to the gums. With Samba, the pressure is predetermined by the brush head, solving the issue completely.” Those who suffer from conditions like multiple sclerosis can struggle with holding a typical-sized toothbrush. “Samba’s handle is much larger, due to its internal mechanism, resulting, unintentionally, in making the gripping much easier.”
It is these functionalities in the device that Mueller tells me leads to more effective cleaning that results in both short and long-term benefits to one’s health regardless of whether that person has a disability or not. Professor Haim Tal, former Dean of Tel Aviv University’s School of Dental Medicine shares, “Once I started using Samba, I couldn’t imagine going back to brushing my teeth manually. It cleans more thoroughly than I ever could and does so effortlessly. This is a game-changer in oral care for everyone. For people with disabilities, it’s life changing.”
If you see toothbrushing stats on how poorly most people who don’t suffer from a disability brush their teeth, it is clear that there’s a lot of room for improvement. “The average non-disabled person removes only about 40% of the plaque, mainly because of lack of motivation, lack of brushing skills or both,” Mueller tells me. “Brushing teeth is an involuntary task that people do not do because they like doing it, but to avoid dangerous health hazards. Making the brushing more effective and shorter (1 min instead 2 mins) will appeal to any person, regardless of if they have a disability or not.”
When I ask Mueller if they have plans for any future products in this category he responds, “Our goal is not to come up with new products, but to make this one product the best there is. Samba2 is already under development and will be ready late 2024 with significant improvements, both in UX and efficacy. Our vision for Samba is to be the ultimate toothbrush, and to do so, we will focus on continuously upgrading it rather than coming up with new products. With that being said, complementary products are under development, such as a special grip device for caregivers.”
Oral care plays a vital role in our overall health, so I think tools like Samba that make it easier for everyone to properly brush their teeth is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to both hygiene and preventative health.