The first TV commercial ever shown in Britain was in 1955 and was for Gibbs SR toothpaste. It claimed that the product made the mouth tingle, which showed it was cleaning your gums as well as your teeth.

The SR in the name stood for sodium ricinoleate, which was derived from castor oil and the chemical responsible for that ‘fresh as ice’ tingle. (Incidentally, what the ad didn’t quite get round to mentioning was that the ‘ricin’ bit of the name was the self-same ricin used as a chemical warfare agent, also derived from the humble castor oil bean. It was ricin that had such a potent tingle it saw off Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov, assassinated in London in 1978.)

Gibbs SR was perfectly safe, but the fact that manufacturers were keen to grab the first-ever TV commercial break shows how, with the possible exception of washing powders, dental products are the ones advertisers put the most energy into flogging to us.

In fact, our mouths were a happy hunting ground for product marketers even a century before that, with claims, some dubious, for dental products going right back to the Victorian era.

With toothpastes and toothbrushes, they’re still at it, hyping up the benefits of this or that dental device. The choice of brushes alone is bewildering; I lost count at 50 different brushes in one supermarket, and Amazon lists more than 100 electric toothbrushes.

Experts are generally agreed, however, that a good electric toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste are the best tools in your armoury. As a respected, dentist-backed British website which tests and reviews toothbrushes (ElectricTeeth) puts it bluntly: ‘People who use electric toothbrushes keep more teeth in the long term.’

So, brush up your dental gadgetry knowledge in this roundup of top gadgets to maintain and improve dental health.

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Best budget brush

‘My top recommendation would be the Oral-B Pro 2 2500,’ says Jon Love of ElectricTeeth. ‘It is our most recommended product.’ It’s usually on offer somewhere from £40-£50: you get a timer to tell you when you’ve reached the all-important two minutes of brushing, a 30-second ‘pacer’ to let you know when to move from one quadrant of your mouth to the next, and a pressure sensor to alert you when brushing too hard.

Best fancy brush

You can pay £200+ for some electric brushes with features you will probably never use. But the £130 ION-Sei from Japan is a bit of a find. I’ve discovered that using it produces a ‘just been to the hygienist’ feeling of smooth, polished teeth. The ION-Sei’s patented technology uses ions created when a built-in UV light hits a titanium rod to suppress bacteria, plus ultrasound to remove plaque.

Best flosser

Flossing is also vital – and there has to be an easier, more seemly way of doing it than with actual floss. There are several devices that use a powered stream of water to shift interdental debris, but Philips’ power flossser is the best value at around £46 and works well for most. You fill a reservoir with mouthwash, place the nozzle between successive teeth and press the trigger – whereupon a micro-blast of the liquid dislodges the offending matter.

Best low-tech

Many Eastern cultures recognise that a coated tongue can cause bad breath just as much as poor tooth cleaning can. There’s no technological answer we know of, but it’s hard to imagine how the job could be done either more easily or better than with a custom-made tongue scraper. Amazon lists dozens, almost all under £5, some metal, others plastic. This Oravix model in stainless steel is £5.99.

Best 2-in-1

Waterpik is the US maker of one of the more advanced dental gadgets. The £200 Sonic-Fusion Professional Flossing Toothbrush brushes at 30,000 strokes a minute, then, at the touch of a button, flosses with a high-speed, pulsing stream of warm water that reaches the parts a brush can’t get to. Or it can do both. Slight disadvantage is that you have to be connected to the machine’s tank via a slim, flexible tube. It needs to power from a shaver socket.

Best new idea

A new British product out later this year could mean obsolescence for plaque disclosing tablets. The product is called UUnn. Developed with £300,000 investment by two young London biomedical engineers, it’s an adapter for any mobile phone camera to photograph the inside of your mouth. Images are processed remotely, and in a few moments, you get to see clearly on your phone where the plaque is. The price is expected to be below £30.


Saga HealthPlan Super offers cover for dental procedures up to £1,500 a year. Or you can add dental and optical cover to a HealthPlan. Call 0800 096 4083 or visit


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