News: From Special Forces to practical tooth care
Story by Staff Sgt. Cooper Cash
KNIGHTDALE, N.C. - The toothbrush has been around for more than 5,000 years, with bristles being added around 500 years ago. The device's impact on oral hygiene is immeasurable, but its basic shape and function is virtually unchanged. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?
Well, according to Staff Sgt. Steven K. Walther, a former Special Forces medic, because it was broken.
While deployed to Afghanistan, Walther served many medical roles for his team of elite soldiers, who were often located far from traditional medical facilities.
When conducting routine dental procedures, such as tooth extractions, he saw deterioration of soldiers’ gum lines. Although intriguing to the young medic, it wasn’t something he had the time to focus on.
Upon completing his enlistment as an active duty SF warrior, Walther joined the Army Reserve’s 518th Sustainment Brigade as a health care specialist and pursued a civilian career as a medical process improvement specialist in Chapel Hill, N.C.
A short time later, the Fayetteville, N.C., native, remembering the devastation he had witnessed in soldiers’ mouths, began a quest for a solution.
Walther said that through psychological and dental research, along with professional consulting, he discovered that one major cause is self-infliction.
“We all know we should brush, and its natural for people to think that the harder they brush, the cleaner and healthier their mouths are,” said Walther.
This is not the method recommended by dentists.
“I see many patients with gum abrasion, largely due to forceful brushing habits,” said Dr. Christie Sanford, a dentist from Wake Forest, N.C. “Even though my staff and I spend time counseling (patients) on proper brushing technique, success stories are seldom.”
With patients disregarding the advice of their dentists and ignoring the risks of gum abrasion, another approach was needed.
Walther sought counsel from professionals and found that the “clinched fist” position used with toothbrushes subconsciously prompts users to brush with excessive pressure. He determined that to change the behavior, the hand position would need to change.
Walther then began his work to develop a toothbrush that people would instinctively use with the proper amount of pressure.
He worked for months to perfect a wooden model, and then had a prototype built on a 3-D printer.
The result is the “Toof-inger Brush,” with a handle less than half as long as a typical brush. It has two finger grooves on the bottom and one thumb groove on the top that seem to naturally find their place in a user’s hand.
“It feels good, just comfortable and simple,” said 2nd Lt. Phillip Y. Choi, the 518th Sustainment Brigade’s personnel officer in charge. “Before, I would just jam the toothbrush into my mouth. It’s hard to brush gently with a standard brush, but with this altered hand grip, I reduce the pressure on my gums.”
Choi’s experience is not accidental.
“By removing the full handle, we reduced the amount of pressure the user can put on his gum line,” said Walther.
Walther said that the brush has been a hit with dentists at conventions and at private offices as well. He has had 100-percent positive feedback.
Ever the elite soldier, the benefits to his brothers-in-arms is never far from his mind.
“Soldiers could benefit in the future by possibly having the brush in an MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat),” said Walther.
Dentists that have had the privilege of seeing Walther’s prototypes agree that this newly developed “Toof-inger Brush” will have a positive impact on the oral health of anyone who uses it regularly.
“I believe this product can truly improve oral hygiene and prevent tooth brush abrasion,” said Sanford. “The design of this innovative toothbrush corrects maladaptive brushing and fosters healthy practices."
Once sales begin this fall, Walther said he is planning to donate Toof-inger Brushes to charity groups.
More information about Walther’s new product can be found at www.toofingerbrush.com.