First toothbrush prototypes to enter testing

Good dental hygiene is a very important part of one’s health and personal well-being. According to the WHO, it can affect self-esteem, school performance, and attendance to work or education. While it seems to us like a daily routine and fundamental part of personal healthcare for many people in Madagascar it is not the norm. Oral health inequalities, something often overlooked, especially affect people with a low socioeconomic status in Madagascar -as of 2012- nearly 80.7 % live with less than 2.15 $ per day. For this reason, an imported plastic toothbrush is not affordable for many households, especially not for every member of the family, and not a priority. Often dentists are not available or affordable. Additionally, the lack of education is another issue when it comes to oral hygiene in Madagascar.

Production of an early prototype
Production of an early prototype body

Our team from MedTech One World Students e.V. (MTOWS) has set its goal to improve these circumstances by designing a locally manufacturable toothbrush. The toothbrush should be sustainable, be affordable, provide jobs and a reliable access for the local community as no resources need to be imported. Instead, only locally produced materials shall be used. Further, we may even be able to export our sustainable toothbrush manufactured under fair working conditions to create further income for the Madagascans.
In cooperation with Planet Action e.V. and the Deutsch-Madagassischer Verein Esslingen e.V. (DMVE), we are working on establishing a self-sustaining production of bamboo toothbrushes in Madagascar. The toothbrushes are distributed and used by volunteer physicians of Planet Action e.V.. These physicians travel to Madagascar several times a year to provide free dental health care service to the local population. Instead of buying conventional plastic toothbrushes from global companies outside of Madagascar, the aim is to use locally produced bamboo toothbrushes in the future.

The alliance of the three non-profit associations forms a partnership in which each project partner can contribute according to their field of expertise. Planet Action e.V., represented by Felix Geidel, initiated the project and takes care of organisational and coordinative issues like financing as well as the medical side of the project. DMVE e.V., represented by Dorothee Schäfer and Klaus Meyer, supports a broad network of contacts and production partners with years of experience in Madagascar. MTOWS e.V., represented by Leonie Gartner, Fabian Jodeit and our active students, supports the project with medical engineering expertise: covering the technical aspects of the project such as the design of the toothbrush and the manufacturing technique which can work in Madagascar.

After the project launch and the first online meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic, we were finally able to meet in person at the workshop of the chair of Medical Materials and Implants and could enhance our progress. Together, we started planning and designing the toothbrush, followed up by crafting the first prototypes. We tried several approaches and designs in order to find the best concept and the best measurements. We investigated different existing patents on the market, discussed various manufacturing methods and materials. Further, we experimented with our prototypes and tested the toothbrushes on our own.

With the support of the dentists from Planet Action e.V., we developed more and more stable bamboo bodies as well as improved hygienic effectiveness and simple handling.
For a toothbrush to function, we did not only need to develop a sustainable and easily manufacturable toothbrush body, but also a dense and soft toothbrush head that can withstand the complex and alternating forces while brushing one’s teeth.

A toothbrush prototype using Miswak
A toothbrush prototype using Miswak

Swak Experience UG kindly offered us support in developing the toothbrush and shared their knowledge in manufacturing Miswak. This natural material is a teeth-cleaning twig made from the Salvadora persica tree that is used for oral hygiene traditionally. It is effective, sustainable and has an antibacterial activity to reduce dental plaque. Traditionally a whole stick of Miswak is chewed to clean the teeth. However, we adapted the handling and developed a robust method to connect the bamboo body with the Miswak head. By now, it can be used similarly to a normal toothbrush with similar outcomes even without toothpaste. Unfortunately, Miswak is not domestic in Madagascar. This is a challenge we need to address in the future, for example by importing or replacing it with a similar plant.

For us, the MTOWS, the next steps of this project will be the procurement of local raw materials in Madagascar and analysing its handling compared to our used materials. Furthermore, we are looking into local alternatives to Miswak. While working on this project, we always follow the goal to ensure a locally produced, inexpensive, and sustainable method of production.

In addition, we are already setting up production sites in Madagascar with the help of DMVE, ensuring the required machines and resources are available, and the production technique is understood by the local workers.

To understand the situation better, we are planning a trip to the local production site in September, and therefore need to finalise our prototypes by then and make the last decisions concerning the final shape and manufacturing methods.

Currently, we are ten active members in the Madagascar team, but we are always looking for new students who would like to join us. Together, we have the vision to create an impact on many people in Madagascar and change their lives for the better. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are always keen to meet like-minded people and to get inspired by different views.

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Let’s reach our goal together and make this work. Be part of an innovative interdisciplinary group and have an impact on people’s lives!

Author: Julia Schmidbauer