Tracking health and fitness through mobile apps and high-tech wearables has boomed significantly in the past few years. In particular, wearable devices, such as smartwatches, have evolved from simply tracking steps or heart rate to monitoring glucose, breathing, blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, sleep patterns and even head injury severity. When it comes to mobile apps, a 2015 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that an astonishing 58.23% of all U.S. phone users surveyed had downloaded at least one health-related mobile app. Welcome to the age of the “quantified self.”
Gary Wolf, contributing editor to Wired magazine, coined the term “quantified self” in 2007. He used this term to describe a social movement in which technology is increasingly used to quantify various aspects of daily life. By tracking steps, dietary intake, fitness goals, sleep patterns, and much more, individuals can gather quantitative data about themselves that they can continuously assess for self-improvement.
Even now, new products are being developed every day aimed towards improving oral health care for the tech-savvy user. At the 2016 Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) Mobile World Conference, Oral-B unveiled the GENIUS, a toothbrush with position-sensor technology that tracks brushing with the help of a smartphone camera and the Oral-B mobile app. At Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) 2016, an international trade show for consumer electronics, Philips announced their Sonicare FlexCare Platinum Connected, a toothbrush with smart sensors to track brushing technique through a 3D Mouth Map on the Sonicare app. In this case, both products track various data points that can help each user identify how to improve his or her brushing technique. However, in the ever-changing landscape of technology, novel products are now available that can bring new data to the mix. Recently, Philips partnered with Breathometer to bundle their device, Mint, with the Sonicare Breath Care system. Mint is a portable wireless breath analyzer that boasts the ability to evaluate the user’s breath and oral health through a mobile app interface. This then raises an important question: how will the advent of these new gadgets impact user compliance to home dental care routines in the long term?
The aforementioned products are just a few of the many products that can potentially generate increased awareness of the importance of oral health. On the Mint app, users are encouraged to improve oral home care to reach the green range – analogous to unlocking a new achievement in a video game. Likewise, feedback from Oral-B’s or Sonicare’s app may give the user that extra push to improve their brushing technique. What is unknown, however, is whether these products will attract low-risk, health compliant individuals or if their benefits will reach higher-risk individuals. A 2013 national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 69% of American adults keep track of at least one health indicator, namely weight, diet or exercise. What if oral hygiene made the list?
As technology catered toward dental home care continues to develop, only time will reveal the true efficacy of the many products on the market. As consumer use increases, so will the data sets collected from these many devices. Analysis of this information just may yield crucial information on brushing patterns, or they may simply help patients and providers target areas of improvement. After all, Gary Wolf said it best: “If we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.”
~ Amber Clark, Utah ’18, associate, Council on Membership