Oral Care Begins at Home

November 9, 2005

A host of home care tools and multi-functional products is putting dental care back in the hands of today's consumer

With an increasing interest in at-home products and teeth cleaning devices, one might expect a steady increase in the sales of toothpastes, gels and mouthwashes during the past year. Interestingly, however, unit sales of toothpastes declined 1.7% and mouthwashes suffered a .4% drop for the year ended Dec. 3, 2000, according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago. At the same time, dollar sales in both categories increased by .7% and 3% respectively, confirming that today’s consumer is willing to pay more for oral care products but is simply not buying as often.

Not quite so surprising are the year’s top vendors and brands. Colgate, Procter & Gamble and Glaxo SmithKline (formerly SmithKline Beecham) lead the pack, with P&G’s Crest pulling out in front at $326 million in dollar sales, though Colgate remained the top vendor for toothpastes with a total of $532 million for the year. Listerine was still the preferred mouthwash at $303 million, while Oral-B sold 65 million toothbrushes for a total of $188 million, making it last year’s top-selling toothbrush, according to IRI.

Substitutes: Are They Enough?
In an effort to squeeze dental hygiene into the typical consumer’s already-taut daily routine, manufacturers are exploring new, easier-use avenues in dental care, including chewing gums and portable brushes and tools. Industry experts agree that dental health—and appearance—are as important to the average consumer as ever. With a plethora of pastes, rinses and devices overflowing store shelves and customers obviously willing to spend more, what accounts for the decline in purchases of pastes, brushes and mouthwashes?

According to industry experts, it is the number of different toothpaste substitutes that may be the culprit. As any consumer knows, brushing is not the only method for proactively upkeeping one’s dental health—now termed “home care” by dentists and industry manufacturers alike—but is rather one of a number of methods to whiten, brighten and maintain dental and gum health. Dental chewing gums, floss and travel-size mouthwash bottles are more portable and less messy than toothbrushes and pastes for work, school and travel and, in many cases, take the place of at least one of the three recommended brushings a day.

New pastes seem to have fared better, with multifunctional toothpastes outperforming their more traditional cousins. This confirms a consumer demand for products which can do more, highlighting a general trend toward packing more benefits into a given product. And having used a toothpaste once or twice during the day which boasts a variety of benefits and promises protection, popping a piece of chewing gum instead of breaking out the brush at noontime is, it would seem, better than doing nothing at all.

But is it really? Industry experts argue that any method other than brushing—including floss and mouthwash—is meant to be a part of, not a substitue for, the daily brushing routine. Is there a solution which will cater to convenience while stepping up oral health habits? Some manufacturers think they may have the answer.

Tools of the Trade
With our national obsession for gadgets and an obvious trend toward convenience, multifunctional and portable home-care tools are stepping up to the forefront. The result is an interesting array of oral care tools that are both effective and fun to use.

Fresh & Go, a ready-to-use, disposable toothpaste and toothbrush in one, was introduced to the public last year, answering the need for a product that can be transported according to the consumer’s busy schedule. The product lasts for approximately 30 uses and suggested retail is $3 per brush. Fresh & Go USA, Inc., Chicago, saw an immediate consumer interest in the product. “We’ve been in distribution for five months,” said David Stein, vice president of sales, “and the response has been very positive. We are seeing a variety of uses for the product, including car and air travel, gym bags, lunch boxes and camping supplies, as well as individuals who just want to keep a toothbrush handy.”

The brush dispenses toothpaste directly onto the bristles via a knob at the top of the handle and a pump dispensing system. The product is unparalleled for quality and convenience, according to Mr. Stein, who said that the brush is ideal for children as well: “The concept is almost like a toy. Because the handle is wider than normal, even younger children can easily brush their teeth. And the flavor of the toothpaste combined with the fun of the product makes children want to brush.”

The Fresh & Go brush is available in two variations: a regular brush for adults and a sparkle-colored, bubble gum-flavored version for children. Application is neat as well as fun, according to Mr. Stein: a snap-on cap keeps the brush head clean, and the plunger mechanism seals the paste so that it won’t dry out. The brush is available through independent and large-chain pharmacies, grocery stores and retailers.

Battery-operated brushes are appealing to consumers as well, offering the potential not only for ease of use but for a more complete dental cleaning experience, according to manufacturers.

Dr. Johns’ SpinBrush has achieved such popularity that it won the attention of Procter & Gamble; the industry giant is in the process of acquiring Dr. Johns Products, Ltd. Dr. Johns will operate under the Crest name following the acquisition.

The high-performance, battery-operated SpinBrush “has become the most popular power brush in America in less than one year,” insisted Michael Kehoe, vice president/general manager for global oral care, P&G. “It is leading the conversion of manual brush users to powered brushes.”

Mr. Kehoe observed that consumer interest in the SpinBrush follows the general trend toward upgraded home dental care. “Many people don’t know it, but there is a toothbrush revolution going on,” he said, noting that the SpinBrush’s economical appeal, $4.99-5.99 per unit, has encouraged a conversion from manual to battery-operated brushes for a growing number of consumers.

“The brush uniquely fills a gap between manual brushes and higher priced power brushes,” Mr. Kehoe stated, adding, “Consumers preferred the SpinBrush 2 to 1 over both the leading manual brush and the leading battery-powered brush (in an independent study).”

Oral-B also offers a battery-operated cleaning system with its Braun Oral-B 3D plaque remover. The mechanism boasts a broad spectrum of benefits, including a pressure sensor, which automatically stops the pulsations if it senses that the consumer is using too much pressure on the teeth and gums; soft bristles, which cup teeth and reach between them; a memory timer function to ensure that the user has brushed for a full two minutes and indicator bristles, which fade when they wear out. This combination of benefits make the plaque remover a superior way to keep teeth and gums clean, strong and healthy, the company said.

Kid Care
As difficult as it may be to gain the attention of adult consumers, it is all the harder to reach the less disciplined—and decidedly more finicky—young consumer. Prompting children to brush has long been a parental bane. However, dental care companies are prepared to meet this challenge with a host of kid-friendly pastes and products designed to encourage children to take a more active role in the health of their teeth and gums.

Colgate has introduced Actibrush Bzzz, a battery-powered toothbrush designed just for children. Already available in an adult version, the Actibrush Bzzz has softer bristles that are gentle on children’s gums and is available in four fun designs: a tropical scene, multicolored flowers, a surfer design and an alien motif. At an affordable $19.99 retail for the brush and $9.99 for the replacement pack, the brush has the potential to move adult and child consumers alike up from the manual segment and grow category dollars, according to the company.

The results of the brush’s launch in May were encouraging. A U.S. Concept Product test revealed that 90% of mothers said ActiBrush Bzzz was superior to their children’s current (manual) brush, and 92% believed their children would be more likely to brush with the kid-friendly product.

“Kids will love it and will want to brush longer,” said Suzan Harrison, vice president and general manager, Colgate U.S. oral care. “Parents will love it because their kids will want to brush more.”

Standard children’s brushes, too, have been stepped up with new designs, while kids’ pastes advertise a variety of flavors designed to appeal to the younger consumer category.

Oral-B’s Nickelodeon, Blues Clues and Sesame Street brushes offer wide, easy-to-grip handles and have complementary toothpastes: Ice Mint Splash for Nickelodeon, Blue Fruit for Blue’s Clues and Bubble Gum and Fruity for Sesame Street. The company has also introduced a Rugrats brush, available in 16 different styles featuring the show’s characters, as well as Radical Control, geared toward a slightly older (ages 9 and up) market, which is available in a choice of five metallic gloss designs and features tri-color bristles for visual appeal.

Colgate has also met the children’s-segment challenge with a variety of brushes created just for kids. Grip’Ems Pokemon has a “soft, squishy” grip, according to the company, making it easier for smaller hands to hold. Star Wars, Barbie and Looney Tunes appeal to the slightly older children’s category, while My First Barney was created with soft bristles and and an extra-wide grip for the very young brusher.

As for children’s tastes, virtually every major toothpaste manufacturer now offers flavors that will encourage regular brushing. Most popular are fruity and “candy”-like flavors, with bubble gum and fruit being the most popular, according to industry experts.

A Sensitive Issue
Despite regular dental care, multifunctional pastes and flossing, many consumers suffer from some degree of dental sensitivity. Originally relegated to only one or two manufacturers, non-sensitizing pastes and gels are now available through a variety of major toothpaste companies to meet this consumer segment. Sensodyne, still the leader in sensitive-formula pastes, rose 11% in dollar sales for the year ended Dec. 3, to $63 million, according to IRI. The toothpaste is currently available in a variety of forms, including Extra Whitening, Tartar Control, Gel and Baking Soda. Sensodyne contains 5% potassium nitrate, the maximum amount allowable by the FDA according to company executives, and the active ingredient in most desensitizing pastes.

Mentadent, Colgate, Arm & Hammer and Crest all offer multi-functional sensitive-formula toothpastes as well. Arm & Hammer’s product contains baking soda for thorough cleansing, combining the sensitizing formula with a trusted household name. Colgate boasts dual-formula technology in a white paste and blue gel along with maximum strength (5% potassium nitrate) relief, while Crest Sensitivity toothpaste is said to be more gentle and less abrasive on enamel.

Tom’s of Maine, a company hailed for its natural personal care ingredients, uses potassium nitrate as well. The ingredient is considered naturally-derived, according to the company. Tom’s of Maine Natural Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth contains a low-abrasion formula which helps protect tooth enamel and is available in Wintermint and Fennel flavors.

Something to Smile About
Typically, consumers cite hygiene and cavity prevention as the primary motivators in purchasing a paste or gel, but cosmetic appeal is also at the top of the list for most U.S. consumers. The desire for a white, clean smile has brought the term “whitening” to a new level for many pastes and has prompted a host of whitening systems to appear on shelves as well.

Crest Whitestrips are a twice-daily, nearly-invisible strip system which can whiten teeth 10 times better than whitening toothpastes, according to manufacturer Procter & Gamble. The strips contain an enamel-safe ingredient and offer the convenience of home application. Consumers can achieve a whiter smile in 14 days with correct use of the strips, according to the company.

Colgate offers Sparkling White, Tartar Control plus Whitening and Baking Soda and Peroxide Whitening toothpastes, while Crest MultiCare offers micro cleansing crystals to help teeth stay cleaner longer. Sensodyne’s Tartar Control plus Whitening has also hit store shelves and offers a triple system: whitening, sensitivity reduction and a tartar-control formula.

Virtually any benefit a consumer may require is most likely on the store shelf—or eventually will be. As more multifunctional oral care products are developed and introduced to the public, home care has the potential to step up a notch, giving the average U.S. consumer something to smile about.

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