The art of keeping one's teeth clean was never quite so complex …Indu Balachandran

Remember the time when you went to the shop down the road and simply said, "Toothbrush". Which one, the shopkeeper would ask, in case you were choosy and had a brand preference. "Hmmm…" you would say after careful thought. “Blue”.

And that was it for the next five years, or till you left your toothbrush behind in your grandmother's house in the summer holidays, forcing you to buy a new one.

Unwelcome change

Because breaking in a new toothbrush so that it gets along well with your teeth and gum family took time-- and you didn't want to mess it up for your mouth with another painful period of adjustment with a stranger...But along came some medical journalists (who I bet had shares in the toothbrush industry) who decided to plant scary stories in health magazines, saying that a brush must be changed every three months. Or else they could suddenly develop treacherous killer germs that could lead to oralosoritis, a deadly condition that could possibly end in brain damage.

At about this time, the chewing gum industry had a slump in sales, so decided to give us all scientific reasons why popping gum was better than brushing teeth…So off they rushed to brief their ad agencies to create films showing several moving arrows and curvy red and blue lines zipping around computer graphics of teeth (complete with that mysterious but compelling advertising word ‘ph factor').

All to say that chewing gum was no longer just for the benefit of looking cool, standing around chewing casually at shopping malls and street corners. Chewing gum was suddenly the best thing for whiter teeth, not to mention the prevention of tooth decay, thereby ensuring that teeth don't fall off till you're 95. (Or else you could be doing just that—chewing your gums).

This idea really caught on. Ad agencies went crazy making films showing people with teeth so healthy, white, bright and shining, they lit up entire palaces; which was a fine public service message too; look at all the electricity we could save.

The toothbrush industry fought back. Tooth and nail. They created sloping bristles. And rounded bristles. And criss-cross bristles. And double-coloured bristles. And triple-clean bristles. All to reach out and clean out in places no bristle had gone before.

But an ad I saw recently in a magazine beat everything. Was this a toothbrush--or Nike's latest sports shoe?? A powerfully styled white thing with a bold streak of green and the words "Cross Action Power" leaping out in Franklin Gothic Bold Italics.


Well I guess the dental fraternity needs all the help it can get to fight terrorism in the form of plaque in its war against cavities--so that's why leading scientists and designers have reinvented the humble plastic toothbrush into a weapon so hi-tech, it was "powered to rotate 7200 times per minute" inside your mouth. I swear. It said so in the ad copy.

That's probably far more rotation-technology per second than the steering wheel of a Ferrari. Wow! So I'm warning you now (because I know these advertising types), soon they will have an ad showing specialised brushes for different teeth. "Ever wondered why it'scalled a toothbrush and not a teethbrush?" will be the headline of the campaign.

And you will be told that you need one special brush for the molars, one for the canines, another for the wisdom...and so on. And the really paranoid types will start rushing out to buy specific brushes for each tooth, fearing they will be driven to extraction if they didn't.

Meanwhile, after my last rather painful visit to the dentist, I realised how important it is to visit the dentist regularly. So I have decided to regularly visit him once every 20 years.

But with constant innovations like the brilliant electronic, battery-operated, pulsating, pivoting, 7200-rotations per-minute marvel I now have in my bathroom, perhaps the dentist will never get on my nerves again. That's the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.

Indu Balachandran is a travel and humour writer. You can write to her at


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