John Carlson: Electric Brush not for Wimps

My new electric toothbrush demands a good grip. Photo by: Nancy CarlsonMy new electric toothbrush demands a good grip. Photo by: Nancy Carlson

By: John Carlson—

Based on my dental hygienist’s recommendation, I recently began using an electric toothbrush.

This isn’t the first time, though.

As I recall, my family had one way back in the 1960s, except that brush’s gears were attached by pulleys to an archaic electric generator powered by a paddle wheel turning in the stream flowing alongside our grist mill over behind the outhouse.

Like I said, it was a while ago.

Anyway, that old toothbrush worked so slowly, you could count the bristles going around.

Fast-forward to 2017. Lord knows there have been many scientific advancements in the ensuing years. The International Space Station. Personal computers. Nacho cheese-flavored Doritos.

But it turns out the biggest one has been in electric toothbrushes.

This shocking discovery came to me the morning after Nan brought ours home. Removing it from its power stand, I squeezed some Crest with Advanced Tartar Control onto my brush’s prickly end, felt for the “start” button, raised it to my teeth and pressed.

Shhhhwaang!!! it went, ricocheting off my lips.

Turns out, cars qualifying for the Indy 500 generate lower r.p.m. than my stiff new toothbrush bristles do. It took both hands to keep them from ripping out my last remaining wisdom tooth. Catching a delicious whiff in the air, I thought, “Nan’s frying bacon!” Then I realized it was my gums smoking.

Thumbing our new electric toothbrush’s off-button, I stared at it in amazement, for the first time noticing its little blue lights. Then I gasped. Not only was it incredibly powerful, our new electric toothbrush came equipped with Bluetooth.


Oh sure, at first my amazement was somewhat mollified by the fact I had no idea what Bluetooth was. Bluetooth sounded less like a new toothbrush advancement than a painful dental disease. But after Nan told me it was some kind of audio/video gizmo, I got excited about waking up to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasting from my mouth every morning. But then she explained this Bluetooth would keep track of how long I brushed my teeth.

This bummed me out again.

See, I had always stupidly considered my personal interaction with my teeth to be my business. Now I wondered where my Bluetooth information would end up? With my brushing-obsessed wife? With tooth-troopers from the National Dental Association’s brushing-enforcement division? Or worse yet, with my dental hygienist?

Sure, she’d been a real sweetheart on my previous visit. But if Bluetooth suddenly accused me of brushing, say, a minute-and-a-half instead of her suggested two minutes, would she exact her revenge on me in the dentist’s chair while digging around inside my mouth with her pointy dental utensils?

Sounded possible, plus painful.

And who was to say things would end there?

Was my toothbrush equipped with sophisticated cheese, onion and grease sensors that could tell I’d snuck out of the house at midnight for a bag of White Castle sliders? Worse yet, did it have the ability to determine I’d hidden a one-pound bag of M&Ms in the house, then eaten the whole thing when Nan was at her book club?


The bottom line was, I couldn’t chance it. So now, faced with electronic Bluetooth tooth surveillance, I have become a brushing maniac. I can eat a slice of pizza in a minute. Then I spend 20 minutes mercilessly hunting down every tiny hunk of wayward pepperoni that’s cowering inside my mouth.

That seems obsessive, I guess.

But from my bed at night, I can see our electric toothbrush in our bathroom, its blue lights piercing the darkness. In a way they resemble eyes, all-knowing, unblinking, and always, always staring at my teeth.


A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three.