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This virtual brushing simulator may help us make better toothbrushes

We take for granted that four out of five dentists agree when it comes to best toothpastes or superior toothbrushes (and that the fifth dentist is just asleep at the wheel, or something), but how much do we really know about what those recommendations are grounded upon? As it turns out, not much.

That’s mostly because it’s actually really hard to test the effectiveness of our dental hygiene tools. But now, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany have developed a virtual brushing simulator which may change how we look at our toothbrushes, and may help doctors really test out the effectiveness of our brushing tools.

The secret, the Institute says, is a novel simulation that actually allows researchers to determine just how much of that nasty film you’re getting off your teeth in the morning and at night. “With our procedure, manufacturers of dental hygiene products can determine the cleaning effectiveness of each individual parameter in a fast, economical and reliable manner,” says IWM scientist Dr. Christian Nutto. “Unlike in real-world experiments, the individual parameters in the simulation can be easily modified — be it the size, shape, and quantity of abrasive particles in a toothpaste, or the material from which they are made, or the shape and elasticity of the bristles.”

For the first time, researchers will have an efficient way to determine how shape, stiffness, abrasiveness, and even toothpaste viscosity affect our teeth’s enamel, and more importantly, the germs sitting atop our teeth. “We can increase the scope of the experiments far beyond what is possible in real-world testing, and that makes a noticeable difference in the quality of the products,” the Institute claims.

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To conduct their simulations, Nutto says, “We specify the characteristics for the abrasive particles such as density, shape and fill factor.” Then, the team virtually rubs a toothbrush bristle over the tooth, and scientists are able to visualize and quantify “cleaning effectiveness, as well as the aggressiveness of the abrasives against the tooth enamel.” And according to their tests, this new simulation “can precisely predict how the toothpaste and bristles will affect the tooth enamel. At a later stage, it will also be able to predict the effectiveness of the toothpaste and brush at removing the biofilm from teeth.”

So if you’re looking for a way to test your toothbrush (or want researchers to just do a better job of it), thank the folks at the Fraunhofer Institute and their fancy toothbrush simulator.