Smart toothbrushes have been around for a few years now, but they haven’t quite caught on. Sure, they promise better habits via connected sensors, but they also tend to be very expensive ($100 and up). Colgate, however, has come up with a potential alternative. Called “hum by Colgate,” it’s a smart toothbrush that’s more affordable. The rechargeable model is $69.99, while the one with replaceable batteries is only $49.99, which isn’t that much more than a non-smart electric toothbrush. After trying it out for a few days, I think the hum makes for a pretty good entry-level gateway to smart toothbrushes, especially for the price.
In a lot of ways, the hum by Colgate is very similar to the Connect E1, the company’s previous smart toothbrush. The difference is that the E1 is a lot more expensive at $100 and lacks certain personalization features. Like the E1, the hum by Colgate is equipped with a bevy of sensors: There’s a gyroscope that helps determine where its position is in your mouth, plus an accelerometer that helps detect the speed and the overall motion of the brush. These sensors work together to track the frequency, duration and coverage of your brushing. It has offline syncing so you don’t have to constantly bring your phone to the bathroom, and it even offers reward points that you can redeem for real-world goods. The brush itself is well-designed, lightweight and comes in three colors (blue, green and purple).
In general, smart toothbrushes aren’t necessarily better than regular run-of-the-mill electric toothbrushes. “A basic electric toothbrush will work perfectly fine in terms of cleaning the teeth and the gums,” Dr. Vaishali Singhal, an Associate Professor in the School of Dental Medicine at Rutgers University, told Engadget. “Smart toothbrushes have other functions that a user may prefer but in most cases those functions will not improve the brushing.”
The hum by Colgate aims to prove that smart toothbrushes are indeed beneficial, largely due to an app that’ll teach you better brushing skills. One of the first things that the companion app tells you to do is to brush your teeth like you usually do so it can figure out your technique. I did so, and then I checked the app to see how I fared. Apparently I only covered 49 percent of my teeth, and according to a 3D model, I didn’t spend enough time on my top incisors and bottom molars. How embarrassing! I had thought I brushed my teeth pretty well, but not according to the app.
The app then instructed me to try out “Guided brushing”, a feature where it talks you through proper brushing technique in real-time. So I tried it, with the phone in front of me and the toothbrush in my mouth. The app instructed me to brush my teeth zone-by-zone, highlighting areas of my mouth on the 3D model as I went along. If I deviated from the instructions and brushed somewhere else, it would warn me to “check your zone” and would stop progress until I returned. It even prompted me to “Tilt the brush 45 degrees” so that I would brush closer to my gumline. After three minutes -- which is certainly longer than my usual brush time -- I achieved a much better score of 98 percent coverage, with almost no area untouched.
Since the hum has offline syncing, you could also just leave your phone somewhere else and brush without it. Colgate says the hum will hold up to ten days of data, and all you have to do to sync it with your app is bring it close to your phone. This is better than some smart toothbrushes that require you to have your phone next to you as you brush -- this Oral-B Genius 8000 model even insists you use the front-facing camera as a guide.
Over time, the hum will personalize recommendations on how to brush better. So if you always tend to skip your back molars, the app will figure that out, and prompt you to pay more attention to that area. You can also use the app to just track basic stats like how frequently you brush and for how long. If you like, there’s an option to integrate these stats with Apple Health if you want a one-stop-shop location for all of your health data.
If you use the hum without the app, it acts like a lot of other regular electric toothbrushes. A timer will beep every 30 seconds to remind you to switch to a different area of your mouth, with a much louder beep at the two-minute mark to indicate you’re done. It also has three setting levels: a “deep clean” mode that operates at high speed (the LED light will glow white), a normal mode at medium speed (blue glow) and a “sensitive” mode at low speed (pink glow).
But there doesn’t seem to be a pressure sensor to let me know if I’m pushing too hard on my gums. This is a feature on my current Oral-B Pro 1000 that I find fairly useful, and am disappointed to find it missing here.
Another feature of the hum is that it rewards points for brushing (you get points for brushing as well as completing certain tasks). You can then redeem said points for actual goods, like more hum toothbrushes or replacement brush heads. But seeing as one point is equivalent to one cent -- the replacement heads, for example, come in a 2-pack for $9.99 or 999 points -- you’ll have to do a whole lot of brushing in order to redeem them. Colgate is planning on partnering with other “health and wellness brands” to offer more products in the store, and you could also potentially donate a certain amount to the charitable organization of your choice.
Colgate isn’t the only brand to offer reward points for brushing your teeth. Quip’s latest smart toothbrush does that too, and similarly, you can redeem Quip points in exchange for Quip products or items from third parties, such as a Target gift card. The Quip doesn’t appear to have the same level of sensors and algorithms as the Colgate hum, but it’s priced similarly at around $60 (replacement brush heads are also priced at around $5 each). In fact, Colgate tells me that it’s also going to be offering a subscription service for its brush heads, which is very similar to what Quip is doing as well.
Even though Dr. Singhal acknowledged that smarter toothbrushes could be useful in terms of encouraging brushing, it might not be for everybody. “It really comes down to personal preference and comfort factor,” she said. On the whole, she said that proper oral health involved brushing your teeth for two minutes (30 seconds per quadrant), regular dental visits and flossing regularly. “No matter how good the brush, even a bristle cannot fit in between the contacts of the teeth in most people,” she said. “Flossing is a necessary adjunct to brushing.”
You should also be aware that if you use the hum with the app, Colgate will collect data about you and your brushing habits (Other companies like Procter & Gamble (Oral-B) and Philips Oral Healthcare do the same with their smart toothbrushes). According to the company, the data is shared with third parties and affiliates, but is always anonymized and is never used for marketing purposes. Instead, the company claims that the data is used to provide the “connected brush experience” and help users with their brushing habits. You can also choose to opt out of sharing your data by not using the app at all, but that does negate the reason for getting the hum in the first place. You might not care about what your brushing data says about you and that’s fine, but it’s good to be aware of the privacy implications all the same.
One potential benefit of this data collection is the hum could have diagnostic capabilities. “The mouth is connected to your health,” said Dr. Pat Verduin, Colgate’s Chief Technology Officer. “[With the data] we could figure out if you have a disease, and perhaps what kind it is, whether it’s an oral disease or something more systemic.” It could also enable the latest form of teledentistry and send brushing data to your dentist, which might help them learn about your habits and look into improving your dental health. “We think this brush has the capability to do that. We think the platform really gives us the option to do all of that in the future.”
Colgate has already teased a new higher-end smart toothbrush at this year’s CES called the Plaqless Pro, which aims to actually detect plaque buildup as you brush. However, that’s slated to be much more expensive than the hum, and the availability date is still unknown.
The hum by Colgate will be available this September from Amazon, Walmart and Colgate’s website.