A new augmented reality (AR) game is creating a buzz in the dentistry world. The game is called Grush, and it was designed to teach children proper brushing – all while having fun. The game’s designer, Dr. Yong Jing-Wang, created Grush after his own son had difficulty taking proper care of his own teeth. Now Grush is available to families all over the world – but is a video game toothbrush really a good idea? We spoke to Dr. Michele Simpson of Wilmington, NC about Grush and the scores of other teeth brushing apps on the market.
While Grush is certainly not the first app to make cleaning teeth into a game, it is definitely the first app of its kind. Most tooth-brushing apps on the market today fall into two categories. One variation uses toothbrush ‘timers’ that offer some kind of tutorial or game to children while the app counts the time spent brushing (and usually encourages brushing for 2 minutes). The other is strictly a game, where players actually use their own hands to ‘brush’ the teeth on the characters of the app - with no relation to the actual player brushing.
What sets Grush apart is that it uses augmented reality or AR to allow the child to play the game while he or she brushes. Augmented reality is a technology which overlays a computer-generated ‘reality’ over the user’s view of the real world. AR is most famous for its presence in the enormously popular Pokemon Go game that was all the rage last summer. However, unlike the scores of other dental games in the app store, in order to use the Grush app, users must buy a special Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush for a little over $50. The brush then works hand in hand with a free app that uses the Bluetooth connection to sense the motion of the brush and uses that motion to control the outcome of three separate brushing games. Though the theme of each game is very different, each game encourages players to brush each quadrant of their mouth for 30 seconds, earning a score called a "Grush Factor," which is automatically sent to the coordinating parent app. Within the parent app, parents can track their children’s brushing habits and progress, and use the Grush Factor scores to determine rewards, follow trends, or simply monitor the data.
So, what does a dentist think about Grush and the numerous other dental apps for kids? Dr. Michele Simpson says there are definite pros and cons. "Games that encourages brushing and proper oral hygiene can be extremely beneficial- especially in children who don’t brush long enough, or avoid brushing all together," explains Simpson. "However, most apps already on the market are either free or only cost a few dollars. This new game is somewhat unprecedented in that not only do you need a smartphone or tablet to play, but you must also invest in a 50-plus dollar brush, too. For families with more than one child, that can be a huge expense – even if parents switch out the brush heads." And while the Grush brush itself is a high-quality electric toothbrush, Dr. Simpson worries it may be a difficult adjustment for some kids. "Some children may be put off by the shape or size of the brush if it’s not something they’re used to using," says Simpson. "The Grush toothbrush is much larger than most manual brushes, and the bristles are shaped differently than most of the ergonomic manual brushes on the market. If your child is sensitive to the type of brush he or she uses, they may be resistant to using the Grush." For children who may be afraid to use an electric toothbrush, Dr. Simpson says thankfully the Grush brush still works with the game if the player chooses to use it manually, "But then you are left wondering why you just spent all that money on a manual brush," she explains. "Hopefully, future versions of Grush have a few more brush options- like a strictly-manual brush, or a way to use the app without having to invest in a special brush at all."
Ultimately, Dr. Simpson still thinks Grush and the dozens of other oral care apps on the market are a good idea. "If a game or app is what it takes to motivate your children to brush their teeth, then I’m all for it," says Simpson. As for adults interested in using Grush, be patient- an adult version (with an adult-sized brush) is in the works.