Even though they were slow to react, toothbrush manufacturers have begun to cash in on products that take advantage of the increased influence of youthful buyers as well as parents' concerns about their children's health needs.
Since 1990, dozens of new toothbrushes have been developed to accommodate the special needs of children: smaller tapered heads, soft, end-rounded bristles, and easy-to-grip handles.
Children's brushes account for 12 to 13 percent of American toothbrush sales. Kid's toothbrushes can be found in non-traditional retail venues such as toy stores, museums and even zoo gift shops.
The new products feature a wide variety of tricks to entice children not only to pick up the brush, but also to brush teeth longer.
"Among the hottest in toothbrushes for kids are those with handles that change color as the child brushes, such as the Jordan Magic Toothbrush or Colgate's Color Change," says Cheryl Watson-Lowry, D.D.S., a general dentist in Chicago. "Kids must brush at least one to two minutes before the heat of their hands causes the brush to change color."
A study from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, Boston, shows that children from 6 to 11 years old brushed an average of 91 seconds when using color-changing brushes, but only 58 seconds when using standard toothbrushes.
Like fireflies, children also are attracted to glow-in-the-dark brushes, such as those produced by Johnson & Johnson® as part of its Reach® line of brushes. "Of course, you've got to turn off the lights to get the whole effect, but that's part of the fun too," says Dr. Watson-Lowry.
She says that children also are drawn to brushes that feature their favorite characters. "Children love to visit their favorite characters in the bathroom," says Dr. Watson-Lowry. "I don't think there is a character today that has not been placed on the handle of a child's brush."
In the past, electric brushes have been used primarily by children with dental braces or those with handicaps that interfere with brushing. Electric brushes have become more prevalent because kids think they're fun. As a result, they tend to brush longer.
The Braun® Oral-B Electric Plaque Remover comes with a small, soft-bristled head and a handle with a built-in timer that flashes when kids have been brushing for two minutes. Battery-powered brushes from Janex Corporation feature characters such as Aladdin®, the Lion King®, and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers®.
"Children and adults tend to spend less than one minute at a time brushing their teeth, even though removing all plaque from the mouth requires at least five minutes of brushing at least twice a day," says Dr. Watson-Lowry. "Any tool that can get children brushing longer is worth the investment."
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