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Smart Toothbrush Tells You When You're Doing It Wrong

BARCELONA — If I learn nothing else during my time here at Mobile World Congress, I will at least go home knowing this universal truth: I am not brushing my front teeth enough.

That insight comes courtesy of the Oral-B Genius, the latest Bluetooth-connected toothbrush from Procter & Gamble-owned Oral-B. The Genius is set for a July debut at a yet-to-be-announced price.

Oral-B has been making toothbrushes that connect with your smartphone over Bluetooth for several years. As with past Oral-B smart toothbrushes, the Genius works with an app on your Android or iOS device to measure how long you brush your teeth and how effectively you're doing it.

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This time around, Oral-B has stepped up its efforts to make sure you're brushing your teeth properly by putting a motion sensor inside the handle of the Genius toothbrush. That sensor gives the app feedback on where people brush and where they may have missed a spot. The Genius also taps into the camera of your smartphone, using video recognition to identify the position of your hand relative to your face. The result is an accurate assessment of your brushing habits, delivered straight to your smartphone.

"Oral-B Genius sees what you don't," said Oral-B's Frank Kressmann as he led me through a demo on the MWC show floor.

Oral-B is especially proud of the Genius because it solves the third of three problems that dentists had asked the toothbrush maker to tackle. The first two problems — people weren't brushing long enough and they were brushing too hard when they did — were solved with earlier versions of Oral-B's connected toothbrush. A timer in the app lets you know if you've brushed the recommended 2 minutes, and if you brush too hard, both the app and a 360-degree ring around the electric toothbrush light up red.

"Even brushing was the hardest nut to crack," Kressmann said.

But Oral-B cracked it, with several features built into the smart toothbrush to ensure you're brushing all your teeth equally. Should you move your head outside of the area where the motion sensors expect you to be, your photo pops up on the screen, shaming you to get back into position. You can save brushing history and adjust your settings to reflect how your dentist and hygienist want you to brush.

The Oral-B app shows where you haven't brushed in dark blue (left) and warns you if you brush too hard (right).

The Oral-B app shows where you haven't brushed in dark blue (left) and warns you if you brush too hard (right).

Oral-B's approach also works because it manages to turn the mundane task of brushing your teeth into a game. In one mode, it's your job to brush away different sections a blue circle by evenly brushing your actual teeth. Good steady technique brushes away the blues, leaving only a white circle. In another, you brush for 2 two minutes, without any feedback, trying to cover as much of your mouth as you can. That's the mode where I found out that I was only evenly brushing about three-quarters of my teeth, with the front runs particularly suffering from neglect. After you learn what percentage of your teeth you managed to clean, you can get extra time to go back and finish the job if you want.

Oral-B's mobile app will get an update just before the new Genius toothbrush arrives, so look for the iOS and Android updates to arrive in late June. Oral-B hasn't set pricing yet, though it says the price will be in line with other premium toothbrush prices. For context, Oral-B's current top-of-the-line model sells for $200 to $220.

The carrying case for the Oral-B Genius can also charge a smartphone.

The carrying case for the Oral-B Genius can also charge a smartphone.

Note that price tag includes a travel case that can charge both the Genius and your phone for those times when you'd rather not leave your toothbrush at home. (Otherwise, the Genius can go for two weeks without a charge.) This should make it easier to keep up good habits on brushing your teeth, even when you're on the road. Perhaps that will come in handy the next time I come to Mobile World Congress, when I can finally show the Oral-B Genius who's not so bad at brushing those front teeth after all.