Researchers to Develop Toothbrush for the Disabled

Photo by Thomas Viccaro.

Dentistry Today
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Photo by Thomas Viccaro.

Maxine Strickland, DMD, of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine has received nearly $95,000 in funding from Rutgers University’s TechAdvance to work with designers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to invent a toothbrush for people with disabilities. Strickland was inspired her work as a volunteer at the Matheny School for the developmentally disabled in Peapack-Gladstone, New Jersey.  

“A lot of patients there had trouble keeping their teeth clean,” said Strickland, an associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences. “A pulmonologist usually reviewed the patients’ eating ability, and I worked with him regarding the patients’ tooth brushing. I learned that many were aspirating when they brushed their teeth. They can’t spit out the liquid, so the liquid goes into their lungs because of poor muscle control. This can create an illness like pneumonia.”

Strickland believes that an electric toothbrush that suctions liquid during brushing would solve the problem.

“The power toothbrush is superior to the manual toothbrush at removing plaque. If we can combine a suction method with an electric toothbrush, that would help tremendously,” Strickland said. 

Children also could use the toothbrush.

“I know that parents are often concerned that their child would swallow the toothpaste, and this would take some of the stress away,” said Strickland.

So far, Strickland and Vivek Kumar, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT, are collaborating on an early version of the toothbrush and hope to refine it and start clinical trials within the year.

“We want to make it really aesthetic,” Strickland said. “Oral health, as we know, is important for overall health. If we can take something we use every day and repackage it for this population, that would be a good thing.”

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