Oral-B iO: The latest Oral-B toothbrush is coming out this summer
Dr Phillip Hundeshagen studied molecular cell biology and has a PhD in systems biology and bioinformatics. He joined Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 2011 as project leader in technical product management and was appointed group head of the global oral care department in December 2019. In this role, he is responsible for the development of electric toothbrushes and irrigators globally for P&G. He is an expert on the technical aspects of the development of the new Oral-B iO electric toothbrush.
Dr Hundeshagen, in your new position as group head of global oral care at P&G, you are now responsible for the development of electric toothbrushes globally. Is this a perfect fit for your academic background and an exciting new challenge?
It is, of course, not a complete fit to what I studied. I am not in the lab and am not practising molecular biology, but the way that we work at P&G is to always have a connection between the consumer and the technology, the science.
Of course, we have people who are developing, drawing, doing the electrical engineering, but what is really important is that everything starts with the consumer. We don’t develop the technology for its own sake, but in response to a problem and to find a solution; therefore, we need a lot of people who are connecting consumers to technology. We do not only have a product that is great because it is great technologically; it’s the great technology that helps people. It is always important to think about the consumer. In a way, it relates to behaviour biology, understanding what people want and need, how you can help consumers, how you can help them make their daily lives very comfortable and easy. We try to make the daily routine of toothbrushing as easy and convenient as possible; we try to really guide and support consumers, but without forcing them to change their behaviours.
For me, it is a perfect fit. Having a scientific understanding is of course important; it gives me the ability to identify the different areas of science and technology. I can contribute greatly by linking my oral biology background and understanding of informatics, acquired through my studies, together with consumer understanding, and bring all this together in a context where you also see directly how all comes together, and that is what I really enjoy about P&G and Oral-B. You create a product and, very soon afterwards, you see with actual consumers whether it works or not.
How does the Oral-B iO differ from its predecessor, the GENIUS X, in terms of technical features, for example the linear magnetic drive?
The GENIUS X has many features that deliver a great performance. It has a transmission system with different gears, and the motor unit transmits the movements from the motor unit to the bristles. The gears produce friction that you can hear and feel within the handle.
In comparison, the Oral-B iO is a completely redesigned toothbrush. The Oral-B iO employs a magnetic drive, and the transmission system is therefore completely different. You have a magnet moving back and forth, transmitting movements into the brush head and the bristles. You get significantly less friction. You also get less noise because you have fewer parts and movements in the handle and a direct transmission of the energy from the magnetic drive to the bristles. Another advantage is that you do not lose any energy; you do not lose any performance to friction or sound. All the energy goes directly into the brushing, which in turn results in a very gentle yet powerful cleaning.
We have found that the direct transmission of the energy from the magnetic drive to the bristle head creates microvibrations. The bristles themselves create a pulsating effect, which improves the cleaning and gives the user a different experience when he or she brushes, helping him or her to glide over each individual tooth.
You know how you are supposed to brush with an electric brush: you are supposed to go tooth by tooth. We know that many users do not really do that or have a hard time doing so. We could always remind users to brush tooth by tooth. They would do it, but once we stopped reminding them, most users would stop doing it and, understandably, go back to their brushing styles, their old habits. With this brush, because of the structure of the brush head and because of the very gentle microvibrations, the users just do what they need to do, going tooth by tooth, increasing the key performance.
This is what changes the experience. The performance and the overall sound and feeling of the brush handle. In that sense, it is indeed a new generation of toothbrush, as we did not have that kind of performance before.
You now have an interactive OLED display directly on the handle. Did you feel that it was necessary to add it to the handle, rather than just having its features on the app? How did your decision to change this come about?
The display really helps. It gives the user direct feedback on how long he or she has brushed and how hard, and gives the user a smile or frown, depending on whether or not he or she has brushed for two minutes. We found that this feature was really helpful to users. Furthermore, it is much easier to change the modes, which are displayed on the handle.
Some users really appreciate the functions it offers, and these were only available in the app with the GENIUS X. The Genius X has camera free position detection already. The brushing time is only tracked in the app, so having the display on the handle with the Oral-B iO makes it now much easier to track time. With the Oral-B iO, if the user does not want to use the app, he or she will still get feedback on the time spent brushing, and it is very convenient to change the different modes.
We now have a very fast inductive charging base, a new brush head, and a whole new design for the handle and for the charger and the accessories. We upgraded the app, which now detects up to 16 zones in the mouth, allowing for a virtual tooth-by-tooth mapping and telling the user where he or she has brushed and what he or she has missed. The intelligent pressure sensor is also a new feature of the Oral-B iO.
Can you tell me more about it? Does it supplement the two sensors of the GENIUS X?
The intelligent pressure sensor tells the user not only when he or she is pressing too hard, but also when he or she is using the right pressure or not enough pressure. What we noticed with consumers is that it is very helpful to get feedback about the amount of pressure when brushing. We all know that, if we press too hard, we are damaging the gingivae. However, users are sometimes so careful that they do not apply enough pressure and therefore do not clean properly.
The GENIUS X has position detection sensors to guide the artificial intelligence. The Oral-B iO has the same sensors, but these have been improved, to give a higher precision in the app. The sensors tell the app how the handle is being moved, and the app employs artificial intelligence to calculate where the user is brushing. People brush in different ways in the same areas of the mouth; therefore, the app employs artificial intelligence to determine that it comes down to the same thing, that the user is brushing the same areas even if using a different angle or holding the handle differently.
In what way, do you think, does the Oral-B iO change the perception of users in terms of daily toothbrushing?
Let’s consider the display. It gives the user constant direct feedback without having to launch the app. Eighty percent of users do not brush enough in at least one zone and 60% in at least two zones, with an average brushing time of less than one minute, therefore, if we only manage to get users to brush for at least two minutes, we have already done a good job. Our research shows that using the app and being able to see how long they have brushed has increased the time users actually spend brushing, to the recommended two minutes and often longer.
The microvibrations of the bristles change how brushing feels. The energy directed to the bristle head results in a gliding effect on the tooth, giving a very even, controlled movement that the user can feel on his or her teeth, allowing the user to really focus on each tooth before moving on to the next one.
We have seen the results clinically. Most people tend to focus on their front teeth and, if they are right-handed for example, the left side of their mouths. Many forget the molars. If with the Oral-B iO the user really cleans tooth by tooth, he or she is pretty much forced to clean all of the teeth, resulting in a big improvement in plaque removal and overall gingival health in these forgotten areas. Therefore, if we change the way that the brush feels, it helps users improve their brushing styles because it is more convenient and not because brushing appropriately is forced on them. Users will take more care of the areas they usually do not brush or do not brush enough, and more care of their mouths overall, brushing longer, better and more evenly.
The research you conducted states that gingivae are 100% healthier in just one week of brushing with the Oral-B iO compared with using a manual toothbrush. Do you agree that, whether using a manual or electric toothbrush, good results depend more on how one brushes one’s teeth, or would you say that using an electric toothbrush is still an advantage for better results over using a manual toothbrush regardless of technique?
In theory, you can do a very good job with a manual toothbrush. The results do depend on whether you have a good brushing technique. However, you will never have with a manual toothbrush the number of movements you get from brushing with an electric toothbrush.
So, yes, I do believe that you get better results from an electric toothbrush because of the number of movements on the teeth when brushing with the right technique and, consequently, a bigger difference if you do not have the right technique. You will not remove as much plaque or cover the same areas with a manual brush.
When the GENIUS X was introduced last year, the Biometric Health Tracker was also introduced as your vision for the future, a way to educate people about their health and discover other potential health issues. Have you made any progress on that front?
I can’t go into details, but I can say that we are continuing to pursue it. We see the big advantage of what we can do with an app on the toothbrush already, and we know that oral health is a link to so many other health issues.
We will make strides in different areas step by step before we have the full Biometric Health Tracker and are able to exploit the potential it has for health.
A new toothbrush is usually released yearly. What is next for you? Do you easily generate ideas about what to improve or change once you start working on the next toothbrush?
We are excited to launch the Oral-B iO in the late summer 2020. Of course, with the COVID-19 situation, it has become a bit more challenging. We need to make sure that everything comes together.
We have a lot of ideas to bring out to improve oral health for everyone. We always want to make sure that something new is coming out. We look at the whole range of products for oral health, such as toothpaste and irrigators, and strive to keep improving our offering.
In Germany, about 43% of people own an electric toothbrush, but there are still countries where the use of an electric toothbrush is very low. For example, it is below 10% in some Latin American countries, so there is a huge opportunity to help more people.
The coronavirus pandemic has definitely changed the way we share information and educate. Webinars have become more popular and are a great opportunity for a company to present, feature or teach about a new product. To what extent are you employing this modality, and have you made changes to your education offering via webinars?
Getting the word out now that most congresses and other events have been cancelled or postponed is also not easy. Like many others right now, we are learning new ways to work digitally. As you mentioned, about the webinars for dentists, what we learned from our professional health organisation, people who engage directly with dentists, is that in offering those webinars, they were really surprised about the attention they were getting, how many dentists were really watching them and interesting in getting information. We employed webinars before, but the pandemic has made us realise what a great tool webinars are. I see that providing information to and engaging directly with dentists via webinars is a great opportunity, not only to make them aware about things that we have learned, that we know, but also to make information available much faster and to more people.
It is important to have direct contact at events, but you can explore specific themes in a webinar and tailor them to a small target group. Therefore, it will be something we will do more after we are back to life as normal.
Editorial note: The Oral-B iO will be launched this summer in Europe.