A little selfie-consciousness may be good
One recent study was conducted by NIH-funded researcher Dr. Lance Vernon (Senior instructor, Case Western Reserve University) three dentists from India, another researcher from the United States. They examined the feasibility of using smart phone video “selfies” to help improve toothbrushing technique.
The small proof-of-concept study aimed to determine whether toothbrushing with selfie-taking was worth further study. As part of the study, Indian dental students were given a one-time toothbrushing training session. Then over two weeks, they recorded – on their phones in the privacy of their own home – five toothbrushing selfies.
Later, the dentist researchers from India reviewed and characterized the selfies. With further analyses from my US colleague, we found some changes and variation over time in the quality and accuracy of toothbrushing.
These changes may suggest that participants were trying to create a new habit, trying to change their behavior, almost as if, while taking the selfie, someone was watching them.
The thought was that by using selfies, participants were more self-conscious about changing their ingrained toothbrushing approach and so may have been better able to “override” their habitual way of brushing. Also, the participants may have had more fun or been more curious about doing a sometimes mundane task.
Habits are hard to change. One needs to overcome “muscle memory” to establish a new behavior. So relearning or retraining, just as with any sports-related skill, may be a gradual process, one prone to trial, error, forgetting and relapse. Some of our data might generally support this. But, based on the pilot study, it seems like adding the selfie to the mix could help people learn, well, new tricks.
While it was a very a preliminary study, it opened a door.
But keep in mind, it’s not just the taking of the selfie alone. Patients will need to review the selfies with their dentist or dental hygienist to get tips on how to improve and on the most important things to work on. Over time, this new, more effective brushing style could become your default habit. But then, you may need another selfie every so often, to make sure that the patient was not slipping back into old habits.
An application of the toothbrushing selfie is that technology could be used to evaluate, monitor and permit providers to give real-time, convenient oral hygiene feedback to people across periods of time. This can help put a greater emphasis on prevention, which, at a minimum, should promote good dental checkups and could help keep costs down.
Show us your toothbrushing selfies! We would gladly want to see them.