Toothbrushes for boomers

June 29, 1993|By New York Times News Service

Toothbrushes may seem unimportant, or even distasteful, but they're getting a lot of attention these days as companies try to convince consumers that newly designed brushes will help them keep their teeth in good shape longer.

Dozens of new models have turned up in stores in the last 18 months, many with curved or twisted handles and brushes of varying sizes that are quite different from the old standard with its straight handles and bristles evenly lined up like soldiers.

There is, of course, a reason, beyond cosmetics. They are aimed at the growing numbers of people who have reached their 30s and 40s, the age when gum disease begins to strike and keeping gums intact is more of a challenge than keeping cavities at bay.

The old-style brushes were fine for keeping teeth clean, but many new ones promise to do more: to brush under the gum line and between the teeth where plaque, the dental world's word for dirt, lurks.

Big companies are spending millions to promote one brush as superior to another. "All of a sudden, it's exploded," said Glenn Archibald, president of Oral-B Laboratories, a top toothbrush maker. "People don't want to be 75 with false teeth."

Advertising for toothbrushes rose by 49 percent last year, from $38.2 million to $59 million, and is expected to grow by 25 percent this year, said Dee Ann Donnelly, marketing manager for Colgate toothbrushes.

That's a lot to spend when total toothbrush sales amount to $560 million a year. But sales were up 21 percent last year, and companies figure they could go even higher if Americans become as dutiful as the Japanese in replacing their brushes.

Dentists recommend that brushes be replaced every three or four months, when the bristles wear down; while the Japanese comply, with 3.1 purchases per person per year, Americans buy just 1.8.

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