Want to really embrace the quantitative self? Forget tracking your sleep and start tracking your dental hygiene. Beam Technologies, a year-old startup, is set to introduce a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush and app that will launch next month. The toothbrush contains a sensor and Bluetooth radio that will send your brushing information to a smartphone app. Later versions will also track how long you spent in certain areas of the mouth and might add some kind of gamification layer to help encourage better brushing.
Alex X. Frommeyer, the CEO and founder of Beam, says the Beam Brush should hit shelves in early March and retail for about $50 for the base and $3 for a replaceable brush head. The Android app is ready, and the iOS app should be ready when the toothbrush launches or soon after. His startup, which is based in Louisville, Ky., is set to close on an initial round of funding in a few weeks. He didn’t disclose the amount but said it is less than $1 million.
Wait, what? Why put Bluetooth in my toothbrush?
The idea for creating a connected toothbrush came from a deeply personal and deeply practical place for Frommeyer. He had long been interested in the ways broadband and connectivity could upend the medical market, and had a personal connection to dentistry thanks to several family members working in the field. On a practical side, dentistry is an easier entry point into the medical field because the Food and Drug Administration has more lenient rules for approving toothbrushes. They are medical devices, but as long as someone submits the design to the FDA, he can sell it. That means Beam can sell its toothbrush without spending millions and waiting for FDA approval.
The first generation toothbrush may not appeal to those seeking the ultimate in data on their dental hygiene, as it will consist mostly of letting you track how long and when you brushed your teeth. To jazz up the experience, Frommeyer will let the app play songs and may incorporate a social element or game element into the process. At first this seems bizarre (although maybe not to those people who share their pictures of their dinners), but as a parent I would love one of these things so I can monitor how often my daughter brushes her teeth without standing right there in the bathroom.
Future iterations will also be able to show the user how long they spent in certain areas of the mouth. The sensor works via contact with the mouth, so it registers when the brush is scrubbing your teeth. I’d love for the app to become almost a reward system and prompt for good brushing, so when my daughter (or I) is brushing, the app could play a video or something fun, but if the brushing slacked off or spent too long in one place, the video stopped playing. I’m sure there are those of you who are scoffing at the idea that one can’t just suck it up for the two minutes it takes to brush your teeth, but I’m on board. After all, I already read a book or magazine while brushing, so I’m happy to be entertained while performing a mundane task.
Giving dentists your data opens up a can of worms
The promise of a connected toothbrush isn’t just a better brushing experience in Frommeyer’s eyes. He’d like patients to share that data with their dentists and hygienists. On an individual level that means better patient care (and you can still lie about flossing if you want), and on a macro level it could mean sharing aggregated data from millions of Beam Brush users, and finding patterns or shifts in how tooth decay occurs.
Of course medical data is a touchy subject and one that’s governed by laws such as HIPAA, but if this is a way to bring user-generated data from devices such as the beam Brush or a FitBit (see disclosure) into doctors’ offices, I’m interested. My own doctor showed absolutely no interest in the data collected from my FitBit, even though she does ask me to tell her what I’ve eaten in the last 24 hours every time I see her. Still, connected pedometers, sleep monitors and even apps that track blood pressure and other function are getting picked up by consumers, so maybe by the time I go to my next checkup my doctor will have changed her mind.
At that point, these types of devices might actually live up to the promise of helping change the medical industry, by offering better data, holding users accountable (perhaps through social sharing or merely with a doctor checking in on your progress) and letting people take charge of their health and habits. So as silly as a connected toothbrush might seem at first glance, it might be the lever that helps move the medical world.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.