July 29, 2019
by Rachael Straus
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any companies mentioned in this article, all products are used as illustrative examples.
Sleek, pretty and efficient are not the typical terms that come to mind for the average person when thinking of dental products. In the past couple years, however, more and more dental products have been emphasizing the power of aesthetics. Up until this point, a toothbrush was just a toothbrush – relatively normal looking with a few different types of bristles and some color options to choose from. Floss was just floss, with slightly different flavors of mint. With mouthwash, it was just about flavor options and colors but never bottle design.
Nonetheless, Aesthetics and dentistry have always been intertwined, not only because there is a branch in dentistry termed aesthetic dentistry but simply because one could argue the most striking feature on a person’s face is their smile. People are always looking to improve their smile, be it whiter teeth or straighter teeth. However, up until recently, dental products had not been created with an aesthetic factor in mind.
The aesthetic-usability effect is a phenomenon in which people perceive more aesthetic designs as easier to use than less aesthetic designs. In 1995 this effect was first tested by two researchers, Kurosu and Kashimura who asked 252 study participants to rate the user design as well as aesthetic appeal of 26 variations of ATM’s. There was a stronger correlation found between participants’ ratings of aesthetic appeal and perceived ease of use than the correlation between their ratings of aesthetic appeal and actual ease of use. From this, it was concluded that users are strongly influenced by the aesthetics of any given interface, even when they try to evaluate the underlying functionality.1 The same is true with oral hygiene users.
With oral health, user compliance is one of the most important factors in determining the positive or negative outcome of a person’s oral hygiene. Aesthetically pleasing product design plays an important role in user compliance. Simply put, handing a person a toothbrush with no regard to what pleases that person aesthetically may affect the person’s oral health. However, providing a patient with a carefully designed toothbrush that the user finds aesthetically pleasing can change the entire experience of toothbrushing by adding excitement and raising compliance levels.
One of the more apparent manifestations of the aesthetic-usability effect in the oral health world is charcoal toothpaste. About 4 years ago, toothbrushing went from being something that only dental professionals spoke about to being written about in popular blogs, magazines, and even on celebrity pages. The trend that started this was charcoal toothpaste. Simple black powder that a toothbrush was dipped into was being shown on all the social media platforms. Suddenly people who went from never thinking about brushing their teeth were rushing out to get the charcoal to brush their teeth with. The reason for this was simply because it was different and cool. Up until this point, toothpaste had not been introduced in any other form other than paste. In the powder form, it became unique and popular. Sometimes it’s just the fact that something is different is enough to motivate people to reengage in their oral health.
Fast forward to now, charcoal toothpaste can easily be found in most drug stores from multiple brands each with distinct packaging.
It was from this sudden enthusiasm towards oral health that got other companies thinking about redesigning what we have always known as the typical toothbrush. One such example is a very simple toothbrush design that took the world by storm. It is called the Quip toothbrush (shown in image 1), it is a battery-operated toothbrush with a sleek design. The holder for the brush sticks directly to the bathroom mirror, making the entire experience of brushing and returning the brush to the holder a very efficient and unique experience.
The Quip toothbrush was featured in most Christmas shopping lists as one of the top 10 gifts to give in 20172. A simple item that dental professionals refer to as a key item in oral health, redesigned into something sleek, effective and cool suddenly became a top tier gift! Simply put, a sleek toothbrush like Quip is to adults what a Spiderman toothbrush is for kids. The same way children will brush their teeth more enthusiastically when using a toothbrush with a logo or design that excites them, so to adults feel the same excitement with an aesthetically pleasing product. Thus, if a patient is having a hard time brushing every day, the right product that checks all the boxes for them can help them develop that positive habit.
Another example of this is the BURST brush(image 2). The color rose gold caught the jewelry industry by storm and suddenly everyone wanted everything rose gold. The founders behind the BURST brush noticed this trend and thought to introduce it to the toothbrush industry. They created a rose gold electric toothbrush that caught people’s eye and it went from being a limited edition to become a staple product of theirs. People found the aesthetic so pleasing that they were excited to brush their teeth. Anecdotally, from my own professional experience as a dental hygienist, I have tested this out on my patients. I began showing pictures of different brushes to multiple patients of mine. Of these patients, 9 of them found themselves being drawn to the rose gold BURST brush and ended up buying it. Each of the 9 patients brushed on average 1x daily prior to using the BURST brush. Upon returning for their routine dental checkup it was noted that all 9 patients who had been using the BURST brush found themselves enjoying the experience so much that they now were brushing as often as 2x daily. The user compliance drastically increased in these 9 users all based on the patients enjoying the aesthetic design and color of the toothbrush.
Floss packaging has also changed the way people think about floss. One such example is Coco Floss, the first floss to use flavors other than mint targeting adults. The floss itself is blue and can easily be seen inside the clear package as noted in image 3. The flavors of cocoa floss range from coconut, strawberry, vanilla, and even passionfruit. Flavors that had never before been introduced in the dental floss world were now being offered as floss flavors. These flavors combined with the sleek packaging made the annoying habit of flossing an exciting one. The floss can now be found at stores such as Anthropologie, a clothing store, as well as Sephora, a beauty store. The people behind Coco floss wanted to show people that flossing, just like shopping for beauty supplies and clothing can be fun.
Knotty Floss, a company which began in 2018 also created packaging that is very unlike any other floss packaging. The floss itself is black and charcoal-based and comes in a small glass canister with a silver lid. It was not the floss that kickstarted people into buying it, but the aesthetically pleasing product design featured in image 4. People enjoyed how the floss itself looked and purchased it as a result. Then, since the design was beautiful, it encouraged users to floss regularly, making the flossing experience great! These products are the firsts of many examples that now currently exist in the oral product market.
Of course, basic effectiveness is the baseline from which all products should be judged, but aesthetics is a very powerful overlay that can be the difference between a patient’s enthusiasm towards oral health or lack thereof. Dental professionals are the experts when it comes to oral health, however, it is important to also be the expert in knowing exactly which oral hygiene products exist. Motivation is the most important part of patient compliance. If the patient is not motivated, then the patient will not follow through with any suggestions offered to them. A huge motivator is an aesthetic design. Something that the patient will enjoy looking at and then, in turn, use more often. This aesthetic-usability effect makes the patients find the more aesthetically pleasing items easier to use and therefore use it more often. Consistency is key with oral health; it is important to have consistent habits that lead to healthy gums and teeth. However, one of the key elements of people being consistent is making sure they enjoy the process. With all the new product designs and aesthetically pleasing items, each person should be encouraged to find an oral hygiene product option that will make them enjoy their oral health regime and in turn be beneficial to their compliance in oral health. Dental professionals stand in the front lines of the battle between healthy and diseased gums. The arsenal that prevents diseased gums from prevailing are oral hygiene products. Through proper awareness of the different available products coupled with the importance of the aesthetic-usability effect, healthy gums will defeat the diseased.
About the Author
Rachael Straus (AKA The Pink Hygienist) originally is from Atlanta, GA and graduated from New York University’s Dental Hygiene Program. Aside from finding out about the latest and greatest in dental hygiene, her interests include the color pink, makeup artistry, tennis and reading.
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