A Parent’s Guide: The First Dental Visit

Child raising is no easy task, especially if you’re a first-time parent. Despite all the advice that friends, family, and well-wishers throw at you, it seems that none of them actually work in terms of making the job easier. I’m sure you’re frantically trying to find space in your hectic schedule to get a bathroom break in peace, let alone a wink of sleep! So of course, I understand the look you’re going to give me when I tell you that somewhere in between the baby bottle juggling and the diaper toss, you’ve got to schedule your child’s first dental visit, too. A look that’s mixed between, “Can you not see I’m busy drowning in to do lists?” and “Why don’t you try your hand at this?” As if you don’t already have enough advice being thrown at you left and right, a few words on a child’s first dental visit:

When:

A child’s first baby tooth appears around 6 months old. Typically, it will be one of the lower two front teeth. Look out for it, although I am sure your little one will let you know it’s coming as they’re gnawing away at all those teething toys, or in some cases, whatever they can get their mouths on. Some might wail as a precautionary measure to warn you that it’s teething time! If the tooth comes earlier or later than 6 months, don’t be alarmed! It is considered normal to be within 3 months of the scheduled timeline. It is important to remember that some babies have a head start, and others are late bloomers. The eruption of the first baby tooth is the first sign that your child should see their dentist. It is recommended that a child establishes their “dental home” no later than a year after their birth. The sooner, the better – here’s why!

Why:

When it comes to teeth, we can get behind creating good dental habits early on. It is best if a child establishes a dental home at a young age for multiple reasons.

  • To check and maintain a healthy oral cavity: It’s obvious that there is tooth decay when a tooth has turned black. Anyone can diagnose that. Unfortunately, by that point, it may be too late! Most tooth decay detected by our eyes have already been present for a long time! We recommend seeing your child every six months as soon as the first tooth erupts, so that we can spot problems early on! Maybe our exams will be limited until your child is old enough to take radiographs, but an exam is still better than nothing at all! Let’s be proactive with our dental care!
  • To develop good oral hygiene habits: When your little one is six months old, the people dentists really want to talk to are the parents. As parents, you will have to guide your child toward good, daily oral hygiene habits. Sometimes, that means holding their hand and doing the brushing for them until they are five years old! We know that they will want to grow up fast but we want them to grow up WITH TEETH! So don’t let them go on their own too early. If your child insists, maybe give them time to brush on their own, and then immediately afterwards, follow up by re-brushing their teeth. Your dentist should be willing to go over some tips if you’re having difficulty with your child’s brushing tendencies. I am sure you have a lot of questions, so do not hesitate to ask your dentist on these visits. Plus, the more times your child gets their cleanings, the more opportunities the dentist has to inform them on ways they can improve, too!
  • To become familiar with the family dentist and dental procedures: Dental procedures can be seen as scary to kids, no thanks to the bright lights, loud sounds, and perception in the media. But they shouldn’t be! We want kids to be familiar with going to the dentist. We want appointments to be fun! And we want to make check-ups easy for them. You know the saying: practice makes perfect. The more times they see the dentist, the more comfortable they will be.
  • To avoid fear of the dentist: Humans, especially little ones, fear the unknown. By developing a dental home early on, a child can become more comfortable with the dentist and will start to see check-ups as part of a routine. When you start to brush your child’s teeth, at first they will resist. But after many practice runs, much resistance, and possibly battle scars, they will soon accept it as a part of life. That’s the same with the dental visit (minus the battle scars!).

Things to Expect:

The first dental visit is not going to be perfect. But it establishes the start of what will be a great relationship between your child and their dentist. Here are some things that you might need to prepare yourself for.

  • The first dental visit will be a visual exam. At six months old, we are not going to take radiographs, a fact you probably already knew. “So what’s the point?”, you may ask. The first visit is usually a visual exam. Meaning, we have your child open their mouth and take a peek at their brand new chompers. If we can get a dental instrument in there to feel the surfaces for any ‘holes’ or ‘soft spots’ that might indicate a cavity, then great! If not, then there is always the next visit. What we really want to accomplish is the familiarity of going to the dentist. Good habits are easier developed early on.
  • Your child may cry. Let’s face it. Everything at the dental office is completely alien to your little one. There’s a lot of stimulation going on and your child may not like it. So, they cry. Well, crying is actually good, because I can stick my head in their tiny mouths and peer at their teeth, mid-cry. Sometimes, that’s better than fighting with a child to open their mouth. If your child cries, do not immediately assume it’s related to trauma or pain. And please do not stop coming to the dentist. As mentioned before, the more they get used to coming in, the more cooperative they’ll be in future visits.
  • Nothing may get done. If the baby or child is not cooperative AND does not cry, then it’d be pretty difficult to take a look at their teeth. No worries! Let’s just call this an introductory visit! “Here’s the dentist, your new friend!” “Nice to meet you, little one! Next time, you are going to do so great, we just know it!”
  • We have to be patient: We don’t want your child to have a traumatic experience, because that can affect their perception of dental procedures and can keep them away from their six month check ups when they grow older. We want the experience to be positive, therefore, forcing a child to cooperate is not the best way to go. We can always try again next time. If there IS treatment that needs to be done, but your child stops cooperating, there are also other things we can do, such as refer to a pediatric dentist (also known as a pedodontist) who specializes in working with children!

So there you have it! Now you are equipped with the to-dos and the whys and the hows. If you can find time to establish a dental home for your child early on, you and your child will have an easier time as your child gets older. Hopefully this advice helps you sleep soundly at night too, knowing that their teeth are in good hands!

Getting to Know: Cat and Chrystle Cu of Cocofloss!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

unnamed-6Cocofloss is a product created by the sister duo, Cat Cu and Chrystle Cu. Cocofloss is a fun (and highly effective!) floss that is bridging the gap between a socially perceived arduous task, and a walk on the beach. Their vision imagines a future where everyone can keep their teeth for the entirety of their lives! Their reach is on the global scale, helping those at home develop good preventative oral hygiene habits, as well as those outside our borders, who may not have access to the tools and education needed to maintain a healthy smile. The truth of the matter is, flossing is not exactly exciting stuff… until NOW!

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Who are the imaginary minds behind Cocofloss? 

I’m Cat, and I started Cocofloss with my sister, Dr. Chrystle Cu! My sister is a tooth geek, philanthropist, and preventative dentist who graduated from Wellesley College and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. I’m an entrepreneur, yoga-addict, and art-lover. I studied engineering at Stanford and worked in finance, art, and tech before joining forces with Chrystle to start Cocofloss.

What was the inspiration behind creating Cocofloss?

Chrystle is very prevention oriented – she’s that dentist who spends an hour educating each patient about their teeth and gums –  and Cocofloss embodies her dream to make taking care of your smile more effective and fun. Chrystle’s dream is for everyone to be able to keep their teeth for life.

I love how Cocofloss is geared towards making flossing a fun experience! What are some of your favorite aspects of the product?

I love the Caribbean-blue floss color. It evokes freshness and blue oceans full of possibility. And of course, it’s functional! Folks can see their progress flossing as plaque contrasts against the blue threads.

Which one is your favorite flavor? Are there any limited editions to try?

Watermelon! Just launched this summer as a limited run.

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What are ways that Cocofloss can incentivize people to develop good flossing habits?

Cocofloss delivers a flossing experience that’s both rewarding and fun!

When I ask a lot of young patients if they have been flossing, their main excuse is, “We ran out of floss in the house”. Tell us more about your 6 month floss plan!

Would you floss tonight if you knew more floss would be arriving tomorrow? Customer behavior suggests so!

If you guys have ONE piece of pro tip for people who can’t get into flossing, what would it be?

Flossing is an acquired taste. Floss daily for 21 days (the number of days it takes to create a habit) with Cocofloss and soon enough you’ll begin to crave it.

Would you care to share some of your favorite flossophies? 

Our flossophy:

Bliss is a life lived in balance – take an adventure and enjoy the familiarity of home, take something and give back something, set big dreams for the future and enjoy improvisation also, eat your cake and don’t forget to floss too!

I notice that you guys love to travel, just like me! I think it’s especially important that you’ve linked travel with having floss with you, all the time, when you’re on the go. Any tips on how to remember to floss during times when we are busiest and most on the go?

Keep floss in your bag so that you can floss whenever you feel like it and don’t be embarrassed to floss on-the-go! I’m often that awkward human flossing in public or on-the-go.

How is Cocofloss making an impact on a global scale?

We’d like to inspire folks to keep their teeth for life around all corners of the globe. To name a few, we’ve donated Cocofloss to communities in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Mexico. The worldwide floss party is just getting started.

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I was born in the Philippines, so I share a connection with your mission. I, myself, personally returned home to Manila to give free dental care for a week. Can you share any insight as to how your experience was?

Chrystle:

The global tooth decay epidemic is so painfully real. What people need most is prevention and nutrition education. Unfortunately, sugar is used as a universal rewards across all cultures. We need to shift the way people think about rewards, and instead educate and reward with preventive tools like Cocofloss.

More on Philippines mission trip here (happy to discuss more also): https://cocofloss.com/blogs/cocofloss-life/a-note-to-the-kids-in-bohol-philippines

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How do you envision making preventative dental care attainable to all groups of people?

We’re using the internet and social media as vehicles for prevention education. Our Cocofloss website has free education for all, and we’re on a mission to make flossing something everyone looks forward to daily.

Where will Cocofloss go next?  

We have big plans to help folks find their smile wherever they go. Stay tuned!


A sincere thank you to Cat and Chrystle, who took the time to talk about what Cocofloss has to offer. If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with Cocofloss, check out my review here!

On Trends: Charcoal Toothpaste

Charcoal sure is getting quite the attention these days. It seems that this granulated, activated, ashy celebrity has stolen the spotlight. Instagram posts are covered with picture-worthy activated charcoal-containing foods, such as black scoops of ice-cream atop waffle cones, and seeded black hamburger buns on either side of a beef patty. This ‘coconut ash’ has also been praised to bind toxic drugs and chemicals in the body due to its negative charge, thus pulling out toxins before the stomach can digest them. (Someone has yet to start an all-charcoal diet.) For similar reasons, bits of charcoal are also being integrated into beauty products in the effort to bind dirt and oils, and I’ve seen humans who look like panda bears, mid-exfoliation. Pretty cute. And don’t think I didn’t consider for a moment the use of charcoal sticks in lieu of a water filtration system. In a crazed effort to eliminate plastic use completely while not being open to drinking unfiltered water, I myself fell down a charcoal-obsessed rabbit hole internet search. Drop a stick of charcoal in a jug of water, wait a few hours, and voila! Perfectly delicious drinking water advertised. While I have nothing at all to say about any of these aforementioned things, except maybe to note that charcoal ice cream temporarily stains your teeth the same color as the pint, I do have a few things to say when it comes to this much celebrated charcoal entering our toothpaste.

Why Put Charcoal in Toothpaste?

Have you seen videos of people brushing their teeth with black globs of sticky stuff and wondered to yourself, “Why put charcoal in toothpaste?” Especially after divulging the fact that a first date may be complicated by stained teeth as a result of trying charcoal ice cream with a potential future life partner. Along the same lines of the previous train of thought that activated charcoal can bind to things due to its micro-porous nature, it seems that some are of the mind that it can also bind plaque and bacteria and tartar. There is the added benefit of whiter teeth, as well. So, why don’t we dig deeper about these two topics?

Does Charcoal Like Bacteria?

Not any more than we do! Activated charcoal is porous in nature. The thinking behind removing bacteria with activated charcoal is that plaque and micro-organisms will be caught in the pores of the charcoal particles, and thus be removed. Possible, but it seems that it does this at a similar rate as regular old toothpaste would. So, no, there is no special binding relationship between the new celeb and our bacteria.

Does Charcoal Toothpaste Detoxify?

There isn’t much to say about the detoxifying nature of charcoal toothpaste that so many people claim. The gums and teeth are not at all similar to your liver and kidneys, which take on the job of clearing your body of toxins. Because of this, the charcoal is not exactly detoxifying your body of anything. Of the same token, for those who are using charcoal toothpaste and are concerned about the charcoal affecting your current medications, rest assured that the charcoal is not in contact with the medications in your digestive tract and therefore has no effect. Unless, off course, you are swallowing the toothpaste rather than spitting it out.

Does Charcoal Actually Make Teeth Whiter?

The simple answer is, “Yes it does”. Bizarre, that you can brush with black to make them white! Charcoal is effective in removing surface stains, which isn’t exactly equated to whitening teeth. Surface stains are extrinsic staining on the teeth due to a coffee drinking habit, or the occasional red wine indulgence. These stains reside on the enamel layer which happens to also be the outermost layer of your tooth. Typically, other ‘whitening’ toothpastes remove these stains as well.

However, your teeth can also have intrinsic stains, either caused by trauma, certain medications, weak enamel, or excess fluoride use. These intrinsic stains can not be removed by toothpaste, with or without charcoal, primarily because the toothpaste will never reach these stains. Whitening of intrinsic staining can only occur from bleaching treatments (whether that’s in-office or over-the-counter) that penetrate past the enamel. But if you wish to use charcoal toothpaste to help reduce stains due to a cold brew habit, then charcoal toothpaste will suffice.

Should We Be Wary of Charcoal Toothpaste?

Unfortunately, charcoal is abrasive. Part of what makes it so good at removing extrinsic stains is the fact that it is rough and can rub off discolorations that are stuck in the pores of your teeth (teeth are porous too!). However, the concern is that charcoal acts like sand paper. Anyone who has consumed or brushed with charcoal will know the grainy feeling it leaves in your mouth. Like sandpaper, repetitive use of the stuff can abrade parts of the outer enamel layer. The enamel is the strongest part of our bodies (stronger than bone!) and our teeth need it as protection. Removal of the enamel layer will weaken the tooth and cause hypersensitivity. You know those ‘Zings’ you feel after a tooth whitening session? Well imagine a permanent version of that, if the enamel is removed. Yikes! Ironically, too, the removal of enamel makes the teeth even more prone to staining for future years to come. Enamel is definitely something we want to protect. If you are planning on using charcoal toothpaste, then consider brushing lightly and gently.

Also, before you declutter your regular toothpaste, may I suggest alternating your charcoal toothpaste with the regular one? Who knows? Like all trends, charcoal coolness may fade, and you may be reaching for your trusty familiar toothpaste brand, once again. At the very least, the alternation will help reduce abrasion to your beautiful, pearly whites. Plus, most charcoal toothpastes do not have fluoride, a good protector of teeth. Fluoride is what helps fight dental decay, and as much as we want white teeth, I am sure you would agree that we want to KEEP our teeth even more. Since charcoal is a recent celebrity, it is too early to tell what charcoal is really about. Better to wait until the tabloids (and research) unearth its true qualities before we fall head over heels for this new star.

Cocofloss: Join the Party!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Much to the bereavement of all of society, flossing is absolutely necessary and cannot be replaced by things such as water-flossers or, say, prayers. All at once now, *collective sigh*. I get it. But there is a new hero in town, one that’s got me (and soon enough, you, too) cheering. I would like to introduce you to a new best friend and awesome travel partner, Cocofloss!

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It would be difficult to argue against the fact that  the hardest part about flossing is the motivation to actually do it. Cocofloss is a creative solution to making flossing (dare we say it?) an inspiring act looked forward to by all. Imagined and brought to life by two sisters, Chrystle and Cat, Cocofloss is all the right sorts of trendy. Chrystle is a dentist and is a flossing-pro. Cat is an artist and a bit more lazier on the flossing front. But together, they make a dynamic duo, saving the world, one tooth at a time.

Cocofloss is not just string in a box. It’s an experience, and I challenge you not to become completely enamored and transformed into a flossing fanatic once you’ve tried it out. Does it sound like I’m a crazed dentist? Maybe a little. I still dare you to try it! Scented with different fruity aromas, flossing transports you elsewhere. A sandy beach at the Caribbean, perhaps? The four standard flavors include Fresh Coconut, Cara Cara Orange, Pure Strawberries, and Delicious Mint. Currently, there is the seasonal Summer Watermelon flavor for post-BBQ hangouts. Once you open the box, delicious scents waft to your nose. Try not to get addicted!

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Now it isn’t just all fun and games. There’s lot to love on the dental front too. Firstly, the string is blue. That isn’t just to make it engaging to look at. The blue string actually makes the plaque that you remove visible. There is a sort of satisfaction in seeing the plaque that you are actively prohibiting from staying in your mouth. Crazed dentist, indeed! Take THAT, plaque!

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Advertised as a loofah for your smile, there is another feature that I absolutely love. The floss is made of multiple, soft, polyester filaments and is coated in vegan wax. The waxy material is easy to glide in between tight contacts. Once you pass the floss through the contact, the fibers seem to spread. In other words, they poof out ever so slightly, filling that gap underneath the contact and covering more surface area while massaging the gums. At the same time, the fibers are very gentle which protects the gums from trauma. Plus, we all know there is strength in numbers! The fibers are even strong enough to remove chunks of calculus and tartar! Off course, there’s a technique for that. For the non-queasy, here’s a video. Viewer discretion advised.

Also, remember how you floss vigorously before your six-month cleaning because you suddenly remembered that flossing was important? Don’t you deny it! Heaven forbid the dentist ever notice. As much as I love holding you accountable for flossing, Cocofloss can do that for you too. Each container has an indicator for how long the floss should last you. The regular packages are a two month’s supply. Once two months are up, you should be finished with your flossing container. If the indicator is not motivation enough, sign up for the six month plan on their website to make sure you are on track between dental visits. Under the six month plan, Cocofloss will ship you a new flavor of your choice every two months, for a total of three flavors, over the course of six months. If you receive your new Cocofloss before you have finished the old one, then maybe that’s an indication that you’ve skipped a day or two (or three or four).

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Lastly, the floss is infused with coconut oil. Which I think is a cool concept, especially considering all the rave about the benefits of oil pulling. However, I would not necessarily say that the coconut oil does much of anything, considering the amount of time it’s in contact with the teeth. Remember that oil pulling requires you to swish coconut oil around your mouth for 20 – 30 minutes! You only floss for a few minutes. The floss itself does a majority of the heavy lifting, but if coconut oil grooves with you, and it gets you to floss, then there you go!

Two things worth noting that could be improved. The floss is housed in a plastic container, although I would like to note that it is advertised as vegan, animal cruelty-free, and is a completely recyclable product. But still, more plastic being circulated around the world. I’m as crazy about plastic packaging as I am about teeth (maybe even more) so for that, I apologize. And secondly, it does come at a bit higher price than other floss. You can find these babies at $8 a piece, although if you buy a package of 3 or more, you will receive a discount. Regardless, if it is the only thing that’ll get you to want to floss every day, I say it’s worth it. Preventative care is the number one most important thing for oral health, and the fact exists that, for most people, flossing just ain’t fun. Cocofloss tries to bridge that gap. We need to make preventative oral health care cool, just like we made smoking cigarettes uncool. Consider it a changing of times, if you will.

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If you’d like to give Cocofloss a try, ordering is easy! This product lines the shelves of Sephora, Nordstrom, and Urban Outfitters, but you can also order here, from the comforts of your home. I have personally tried all five flavors, and I’ve got to tell you that Pure Strawberries is my absolute favorite. Reminds me of farmers markets and strawberry shortcakes! I recommend this product to all my patients, especially kids and younger teens who have yet to develop a flossing habit. Challenge them (or yourself) to floss for 21 days straight (the number of days it takes to form a habit). Let’s introduce a new flossophy to younger generations by teaching them that flossing is actually cool.

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Battle of the Brushes: Manual VS Electric

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

We all know that prevention is better than treatment when it comes to your teeth. Wanting the finest for our teeth, we search for the best gadgets to aid us in making sure our pearly whites are nice and healthy. The most often used tool, and thus your tooth’s best friend, is the handy dandy toothbrush. But when it comes time to select your toothbrush of choice, the wide array of choices sitting on the shelf or available on the net can be very, very overwhelming. Looking at the dilemma from the macro-level, I think the most common fork in the road occurs where we have to choose between a manual toothbrush and an electric toothbrush. Here, I will review the pros and cons of both options, and then talk about which one I myself choose to use, and why.

WHO COULD BENEFIT FROM AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH?

When patients come to me and ask if they need an electric toothbrush, many of them are surprised when I tell them that the answer is no. There are a few groups of people who could benefit from an electric toothbrush, but it is not necessary for everyone to have in order to maintain good oral health. Electric toothbrushes greatly benefit people with Parkinson’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other such conditions that could impair one’s ability to hold and maneuver a toothbrush. Spinning and vibrating (and whirling and twirling) bristles are really great at restoring one’s manual dexterity when it has been lost. However, if you do not have any existing conditions that impair movement, then there is likely no need for an electric toothbrush at all.

The Debtist

AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH DOES HAVE ITS LIMITATIONS

An electric toothbrush is useful because you’ve got this machine that moves in certain directions to remove the sticky plaque building up on your teeth, but it does have its limitations. Usually, the direction that a toothbrush head spins or vibrates is singular. With manual toothbrushes, you can vary the direction of your brushing at any time, which can be more effective. For example, if your teeth are slightly crooked, an electric toothbrush that only spins in a clockwise direction may miss a particular spot that a manual toothbrush can reach by moving side to side, or up and down. Depending on where the tight corners in your particular dentition are, you can alter the same toothbrush to move different ways in order to reach very difficult areas. Also, the electric brushes are very strong, which some people are not aware of. Using them requires an even softer hand than using a manual brush. Even though the intentions are good, pushing down on an electric toothbrush can cause too much trauma on the gums, causing gum recession. We like gums as much as teeth, so this is no good. Therefore, using an electric toothbrush may seem easier, but easier does not always mean better.

THE TRUTH: MOST PEOPLE WOULD DO JUST FINE WITH A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

The truth of the matter is, most people would do just fine with a manual toothbrush. I understand that it takes some time (and practice) to learn how to use a manual toothbrush, but the same is true of anything else in your life. Once mastered, the chore becomes a habit, and habits are subconscious and therefore become easy. If you can put in the time and effort to learn how to use a toothbrush effectively, then a manual toothbrush would work equally as well as an electric toothbrush! But, 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 and it 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 device. However, what most people do not understand is that learning how to brush really well can yield results that are as good, and sometimes even better, than your new gadget.

WHY I CHOOSE TO USE A MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH

On that note, most patients are surprised to learn that I myself choose to use solely manual toothbrushes. There are many reasons why I opt for the manual brushes. As an advocate of slower-living, a lover of nature and sustainable products, and a fan-girl of the lost art of doing things for ourselves, I am partial towards tooth brushing by hand. Manual toothbrushes give us sustainable product options that are more eco-friendly than their plastic vibrating counterparts. We have manual brushes on the market that are biodegradable, recyclable, or recycled themselves. It allows me to pick a product that is in line with my values and my intention of creating less waste. Additionally, I have more control with a manual toothbrush. I can move the bristles in directions that are good for my particular dentition and I can alter the pressures that I place on my gums a bit easier. And lastly, I find them to be much more cost-effective. My persona as the Debtist easily explains why cost-efficiency is important for me. From a dentist’s perspective, I understand that we can do just as well with a manual as we can with an electric one.

While electric toothbrushes do have their uses and are a huge help to those who need it, I believe we have gotten to a point where they may be a bit over-hyped (and possibly over-sold) for the sake of convenience. It’s an easy answer to the question, “How do I brush my teeth well?” Instead of teaching people to be better brushers, we are making them dependent on a tool to do the work for them, and the cost is more plastic being introduced into our environment at ever-increasing price as less and less people learn how to effectively brush. I tell patients all the time that we are responsible for our oral health, and we shouldn’t depend solely on spinning brush wheels. We need to take our oral health back into our own hands. Quite literally. And with that, the battle of the brushes continue.

Getting to Know: Heather McDougall of Bogobrush

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

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.