Getting to Know: Heather McDougall of Bogobrush

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Heather McDougall is the co-founder of Bogobrush, along with her brother John McDougall. Both are children of a dentist who pursued careers in other fields but they have come full circle and returned to the toothbrush. More importantly, they are using this single, everyday, taken-for-granted item and using it as a means for social change. More than just another toothbrush company, Heather has some very inspiring ideas about the ways in which the toothbrush can affect our environment and under-served communities, as well as communities in other impoverished areas outside of our borders, in a positive way. The Bogobrush is a great example of how the items we choose in our lives could carry a value that goes way past a monetary number. 

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How did Bogobrush come about? What were the inspirations, motivations and goals that fueled the birth of the Bogobrush?

John and I say the idea came from when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist. But, really, neither of us had any intention of following the family business. John went to design school while I went to law school. During those years, we realized our shared passion for sustainability. We wanted to do our part, so we talked about a lot of ideas. We kept coming back to a toothbrush. It’s something people use everyday! More than half a billion manual toothbrushes end up in landfills or polluting natural habitats in the U.S. alone, and more than 80 million Americans lack access to adequate oral care. We had somehow come full circle from childhood.

What was it like growing up with a dentist in the house? I am sure you learned a lot of oral hygiene tips and tricks. Is that the part of the reason why you felt a calling towards helping people with their at-home oral hygiene?

Growing up was a blast. Our mom and dad always encouraged creativity, play, and adventure. Naturally, we also learned a lot about oral health: tips for best ways to brush teeth, what the best toothbrush bristles are, the foods and drinks that are harmful to oral health, how oral health affects heart health, and as we got older, we’d hear how lack of access harms a variety of communities around the country and world, and how policies and diet habits are barriers to quality care. I don’t think we felt a calling at the time, but it certainly helped us see oral health as a real issue to tackle for sustainability.

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Heather and John as little tykes, brushing away.

I understand that currently there are two models for your brushes- a recyclable plastic and a biodegradable handle. Could you describe each in more detail? Why did you guys decide to have a plastic one, rather than going entirely with biodegradable options?

Our plastic brushes are made from entirely recycled plastics that would have been thrown in the landfill. We use what is technically called “re-grind,” which is the plastic waste from other manufacturing projects. We get it from those projects, re-grind it up, and it become the recycled Bogobrush. The handle is 100% recyclable – just toss it in the recycle bin when it’s use is over.

The biodegradable Bogobrush is made from leftover plant material from farms across midwest America. The plant material gets mixed with a vegetable based oil and turns into a material that can be molded like plastic but is biodegradable! Both options can be found here.

We have both options so Bogobrushes can choose which end of life stream is best for their lifestyle. Not everyone composts or has access to community compost so recycling is the best bet. Same thing in reverse. And while composting is awesome, recycling has now become more energy efficient than landfills, and that’s an important industry to help advance.

I totally agree! We, ourselves, do not have an option for composting, and I am a huge proponent of supporting the recycling system in order to advance its abilities for future generations. So, what now? What exciting plans do you guys have in the future for the Bogobrush?

Later this year we’ll be launching a whole bunch of new products. We’re launching new colors, new biodegradable materials, and an updated design – still the same beautiful product, just more refined and less material so it’s better for the planet. Plus, the cat’s not quite out of the bag, but we’re also working on a children’s collection. We have some really fun things launching with that, and we hope you’ll follow along later this summer when we announce it fully!

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Definitely! I will be very much interested in the kid’s toothbrushes, since we see a lot of children in our office! Besides Bogobrush, what are some of your other favorite oral hygiene brands?

I love Cocofloss for my dental floss. I’d love to do a partnership with them for Bogobrush some day, too. 🙂 I also really love the Toothy Tabs from Lush Cosmetics. So easy to travel with and they have super random flavors. One of my faves is Grapefruit and Black Pepper. Mint toothpaste loyalists beware. Ha!

Bogobrush stands for Buy one, Give one. I think it’s amazing that you guys are devoted to making a social impact in the lives of under-served communities. What are some communities that benefit from the Bogobrush?

To date, we’ve worked with low cost health clinics in communities across the U.S. For instance, in Detroit, we partner with Covenant Community Care. These clinics serve populations who are under-insured or don’t have any insurance at all. They provide a beautiful health clinic, and top quality care. We think quality matters and helps everyone feel valued.

Recently, we decided to start expanding our giving beyond clinics and even beyond toothbrushes when the case is right. This past May, we partnered the Engineers without Borders from North Dakota State University on their work in a partner community in Guatemala. This will be an ongoing relationship and we’re excited to see how we can help support their work for educating about engineering, clean water, and health. We’re also working to get connected with urban farming and art education. Anything that we think relates to sustainability, we want to join the communities and lend our support.

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Partnership with NDSU Engineers without Borders

Currently are you guys accepting applications from other organizations to be a part of the Give Back program? If other communities are interested in benefitting from the Bogobrush, how might they became part of the program?

Yes! We are actually just creating an official application process for this. We’d love to hear from folks interested in partnering – once, twice, on-going, or any ideas welcome. Send an email to contact@bogobrush.com to get started.

Do you guys plan to extend your outreach program to international levels? I have a bit of wanderlust in me, so this question definitely peaks my interest.

Yes again! The Engineers Without Borders program is international support. We’re also working on a relationship with some folks in Spain who are doing reforestation and ocean clean-up work. For us, it’s all about the community of Bogobrushers and their communities of giving back. The Engineers Without Borders are at NDSU, and North Dakota is where John and I grew up so we have loyal supporters in that community. As long as people feel a personal connection to the give, we aren’t too concerned about geography. The folks in Spain will sell Bogobrush, so their sales and customers will be connected to their outreach work.

How may dentists in particular become more involved with spreading Bogobrush’s impact?

We’d love to talk to dentists about providing Bogobrushes to their patients. This could be through resale, or the brush dentists often give after hygiene appointments. Longer term, we’d love to develop a program through our subscription service online that helps dentists remind their patients of appointments and other important oral care check points. And, if dentists have any outreach causes their connected to, let us know and we can find a way to work together. Of course, on the simplest end of support dentists can spread the word on social media, offer to write blog posts, and share knowledge with our community.

What is the most difficult obstacle in trying to convince others to switch to a Bogobrush?

Our biggest obstacle has been getting the story out. Most people don’t care about their toothbrush. It’s an object that they have to use, and they dont’ think about it much beyond that. This means, a toothbrush, especially a manual toothbrush is mostly commodity and price-based. We are using values to sell a toothbrush. That means our job is to tell stories. To show people why a Bogobrush is worth paying a few dollars more for – the environment and helping your community. This fall we’ll be doing a lot more sharing our story because we have funding for marketing!

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How do you guys overcome difficult times?

Stay focused on the bigger mission. If we wanted to sell a cool looking plastic toothbrush, the hurdles would be much smaller. We’re trying to push the needle on a variety of fronts, though. We talk about our dreams for the world, we talk about our dreams for our own lifestyle, we talk about our vision for the company as it expands beyond Bogobrushes and into even more products that can help the world. Bogobrush is an amazing toothbrush, but for us, it’s so much more than that. It’s the start of something so much bigger.

How do you unwind and refresh?

Unwinding and refreshing happens for me whenever I turn off the switch on work, and let my mind roam freely through other adventures. For instance, John and I both love to be active and moving. For me that means yoga, hiking with my husband, or walking my dog. For John, he snowboards, hikes, or goes indoor climbing. Unwinding can even be dinner as a family, ditching my phone for a few hours, dancing in my living room, or playing music.

What would you consider your greatest success so far? And what is one moment you won’t ever forget?

Regarding success with Bogobrush, there are moments in time that we celebrate, but right now the greatest success that comes to mind is the very first step. The first decision to type into google “toothbrush manufacturer.” A close follow-up to that is learning to evaluate the balance of persistence and pivoting. We’ve been working a long time on this. We could give up at any number of challenging times, but our persistence and faith in our vision keeps us going. And our ability to see that sometimes the path forward is to turn right or left allows persistence to pay off.

One unforgettable moment is from 2014. John and I were in our bristling partner’s facility watching our first run of recyclable handles go through the machine, and success! We’d first tried to make Bogobrush from bamboo with overseas manufacturers. This didn’t work, and in bristling we lost more than half of the handles to breakage. Being with John, 2 years later to watch our pivot turn into success was so amazing.

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Bristling the Bogobrush.
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Success! Bogobrush bristles in the making!

If you could give one piece of advice to other creative entrepreneurs wishing to create social change, what would it be?

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Question why you’re doing what you’re doing. I don’t think 100% certainty is necessary, but a gut level peace and energy will keep you moving. And bonus advice – when you get stressed, do something else that’s fun! Nothing is as big of a deal as we think it is. I’m super guilty of this, but step out, do something fun – even if it’s forced. 🙂

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Canyoning in the Snake Canyon on a trip to Oman. “It was one of the most epic things we’ve ever done!” Heather is on the left with her husband David and John is on the right with his wife Hannah.

Thank you Heather for taking the time to interview with me. You’re an inspiration to the dental field and a wonderful reminder that we can make changes beyond the doors of a dental office. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free. Mike and I have personally been using Bogobrush since January of 2018 and we will not go back. 

Tooth Brushing Techniques With Bogobrush

This post is sponsored by Bogobrush, a source for ethically made, sustainable toothbrushes, with a one-for-one give-back program for low-income communities. 

We all know that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to the dental office. There are many ways to prevent caries formation and periodontal disease, the most common of which are proper oral hygiene at home and consistent visits to the dentist for dental check-ups and cleanings. Off course, there are many tools one can use to implement oral hygiene at home. However, the tools are not as important as the methods with which we carry out our everyday oral hygiene. Hence, this short discussion on tooth brushing techniques.

People always see me at the dental office and ask me, “Hey Doc, do I need an electric toothbrush?” Well, that depends. Are you physically capable of brushing your teeth? If you are without Parkinson’s or Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other such conditions that could impair your ability to hold and maneuver a toothbrush, then I would venture that you do not need an electric toothbrush. Now, if the question you meant to ask was, “Could I benefit from an electric toothbrush?”, well, that depends too. If you put in the minimal time and effort to learn how to use a toothbrush effectively, then a manual toothbrush would work equally as well as an electric toothbrush. If you do not want to put in the effort to learn how to properly yield a manual toothbrush, then yes, you can buy a gadget that can do the work for you. It makes sense that the results of inefficient manual toothbrush techniques will be subpar with the results of a vibrating electric toothbrush. However, what most people do not understand is that the results of an efficient manual toothbrush can be as good, and sometimes even better, than your new gadget.

So, in an effort to save you some money, and to save the planet from unnecessary plastic devices, I am going to discuss tooth brushing techniques using my favorite, eco-friendly, socially-conscious Bogobrush.

How to hold your toothbrush.

Most people brush too hard. The point is not to be vigorous with brushing. I know that your intentions are good, and you are making all efforts to remove the plaque from your teeth as best as you can, but excessive forces while brushing can lead to recession of the gums, which can then unleash another set of problems such as teeth sensitivity. Dentists love gums as much as teeth, so we definitely do not want to do that! The root of the problem is usually in the way a person holds their toothbrush. Usually, I see people enclosing their entire fists around the handle, which increases the pressure they can exert on the gum tissue. Unfortunately, this is WAY too much pressure. You want to hold your toothbrush like a flute. Four fingers on the top and the thumb on the bottom. You will notice the vast difference in pressure, and your gums will be all the more happier about it.

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Tooth Brushing Techniques

There are multiple tooth brushing techniques! Some are good, some not so good, and some are entirely bad. The methods that I will discuss today are the Bass Method, Stillman Method, and Charter’s Method, the names of which are completely unimportant, but the techniques of which are instrumental. All three methods can be modified, which will also be discussed here. Lastly, there are a few subpar methods called the Fones Method and the Roll-Stroke Brushing technique, which could be useful in teaching children elementary brushing techniques, however, they are not entirely effective in plaque removal and require graduation from once the individual is capable. But first…

How NOT to Brush Your Teeth: The Horizontal Method

A lot of people brush their teeth in horizontal fashion. Meaning they move the toothbrush left to right, from the posterior teeth to the anterior teeth, back and forth over and over again. Typically the toothbrush is pointed directly at the teeth, without ever touching the gums, which is the first negative part about this technique. Plaque will tend to accumulate near the gum line, so we definitely want to focus in this area. However, it’s just as bad if the horizontal method was carried out while pointing the toothbrush at the gums. This method is one of the leading causes of abrasion lesions. This means that the back and forth motion scrapes away at the gums and causes recession of the gum tissue. And as we said earlier, we want nice healthy gums to be covering the roots of our teeth. In the past, this is the tooth brushing method that was taught, so I hardly blame anyone who still believes that this is the optimal technique. But my dear friends, times have changed. Hand in hand with the idea of brushing your teeth as hard as you can, we now know that this is not the ideal way to brush teeth.

Good Brushing Techniques:

So how DO we want to brush our teeth? Below are three methods of teeth brushing. The three methods may seem very similar, and a mixture of these techniques may be used. The one unifying link between these brushing techniques that I think is an important take-away is the fact that the toothbrush is angled towards the gum line at a 45 degree angle, always!

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  1. The Bass Technique

This is my favorite brushing technique and it is actually one of the most effective because of its ability to remove plaque underneath your gum line, which then helps prevent periodontal infection.

Method: Point the toothbrush towards your gum line (where your tooth and your gums meet) at a 45 degree angle.  Gently put enough pressure so that the bristles of the toothbrush enter the gingival sulcus, otherwise known as the space between the tooth and the gums. Create a vibrational movement using very very short back and forth strokes. You need to do 10-15 strokes per tooth (which is essentially what you pay an electric toothbrush to do for you). The important part is to do this vibrational motion without removing the bristles from the sulcus. After 10-15 strokes, you can move to the next tooth.

  1. The Stillman Technique

Method: This is very similar to bass technique with a slight modification. You will still point the bristles at a 45 degree angle towards the gum and place similar pressure. As you vibrate the toothbrush using short strokes, you move the toothbrush towards the occlusal surface (otherwise known as the top of the tooth). So in essence, you start at the gum line and move towards the tops of your teeth, while moving in this vibrating motion!

  1. The Charter’s Technique

Lastly, the Charter’s technique is used when there is an appliance in the mouth, such as braces!

Method: Think of the Charter’s technique as an inverted version of the Bass Technique. Instead of the toothbrush pointing at the gums, we want the toothbrush bristles to be pointing towards the occlusal surface of the tooth (or top of the tooth). The sides of the bristles should then be pushed up alongside the gums. The toothbrush should still be at a 45 degree angle. Vibrational movements are still used to remove the plaque.

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  1. Modified Versions of Techniques 1-3

The modified versions of all three techniques can be made, wherein one rolls the toothbrush towards the occlusal surface (or tops of the teeth) at the end of each vibrational sequence (Remember, 10-15 vibrational strokes per tooth!).

Brushing Techniques for the Young Learner

  1. Fones Technique

This technique is one of the subpar techniques that can be used to LEARN how to brush, in a very elementary sense, but is not extremely efficient in removing plaque. We teach this technique to children who are just learning how to brush their teeth.

Method: This technique is known as the circular brushing method. A toothbrush is placed on a set of teeth and is moved in a circular fashion a few times, before moving to the next set of teeth. It is important to understand that this method is only meant to be used to introduce people to brushing techniques.

2. Roll Stroke Brushing Technique

Similar to the Fones Technique, this technique is also subpar, but is simple and requires little practice, so it is usually used as an introduction to tooth brushing.

Method: Place the toothbrush towards the gums and swipe towards the occlusal surface of the tooth (the top of the tooth). Continue this movement until all teeth have been brushed.

Common spots you don’t want to miss!

It’s easy to forget about the backs of your teeth, but those are equally important as well. The back of your front teeth are where plaque and calculus tend to accumulate for most people, mostly because this area is so easily forgotten. Brushing the backs of anterior teeth can be very difficult, so here are some images to show how you can achieve the 45 degree angle in such a funky spot. Uncomfortable at first, but like everything else, it’ll fall right into “normal” after a few practice runs. Disclaimer: you have to brush the backs of anterior teeth with an electric toothbrush too!

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So there we have it! Tooth brushing techniques that will save you from needing an electric toothbrush, and the planet from unnecessary plastic.

To learn more about Bogobrush, check out a previous post here.

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Fun Fact: On average, a person should be replacing their toothbrush every 3-4 months. Once the bristles are splayed out, they are less efficient at removing plaque. Conveniently, Bogobrush has a subscription option that will automatically send your next toothbrush at a monthly interval of your choosing. Bogobrush is currently offering TheDebtist readers their first subscription for free.

As always, thank you for supporting those that support TheDebtist.