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Ask HN: My dentist prescribed me a toothbrush that wants to track me forever
41 points by TurkishPoptart 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments
Hi HN. I'm writing you because I'm a bit miffed about my first electric toothbrush that my dentist prescribed me. It's called a Philips Sonicare DiamondClean and it cost me $180. When you're at the dentist, it's customary to pay at the time of services rendered....I already regret this. The problem is that this toothbrush requires the Philips Sonicare Android/Apple app. I gave it a whirl, but during the setup process I've noticed so many dark patterns. For starters, it requires that Bluetooth and Location be on all the time. Secondly, the app does _not_ allow screenshots to be made of it! It just disables that on Android for me. Third, the manufacturer does not state any of this on the package, and probably has no necessity to do so.

How bout just don’t use it. You can lie to your dentist. He’s going to just tell you to floss more either way.

He’s just pushing it on you because some pharma rep came in and bought him a nice steak and bottle of wine at the Capital Grille.

Same as how you get all those shirts from Splunk and USB drives from Salesforce or whoever at ReInvent.

Our child's dentist recommended a sonic toothbrush. We got a Sonicare (no app required). It's one of the best things that's happened to his teeth. YMMV.

I don't deny that people often have ulterior motives but I think operating on the assumption that that's the only motive they can possibly have is harmful.

> He’s just pushing it on you because some pharma rep came in and bought him a nice steak and bottle of wine at the Capital Grille.

This reminded me of the Open Payments Data[1] site that I recently found out about. You might be able to find out exactly how much that nice steak and bottle of wine cost the pharma rep.

[1] https://openpaymentsdata.cms.gov/

Just curious since it's impossible to track by whose advice the patient purchases the merchandise, how does the salesman justify the spending?

They're just trying to get their toothbrush the one featured at the dentist office. And then if you buy it at the dentists, they'll be able to tell how many that dentist is moving.

Ah I see, so patients can purchase at dentist's office. Yeah that would be trackable. Seems it works a bit different in Canada as they onlt make recommendations but never sell products. They do offer samples which I think are provided by salesmen.

I have the same toothbrush that my dentist recommended.

I just use it as an electric toothbrush. I briefly looked up some details on the app, realized it made zero sense to install it, and now I just use it as a toothbrush.

I'm sure my dentist made a commission on that toothbrush I puchased through her, and billed my insurance for it, as well as gets some kind of kickback from Phillips to hawk their products. I guess she needs to pay for her dental school tuition loans somehow. Either way, I haven't gone back to her since.

I'm curious: if the app is useless for brushing your teeth, what is its advertised purpose ?

This is called tooth-coaching. It congratulates you on brushing your teeth, and then reminds you to do it again in the morning. If you ever tire of this endless brushing and begin to wonder what it's all about, it will display an inspirational quote.

That sounds like a job for a Raspberry Pi[0] with a pushbutton wired up to a GPIO pin. Push the button after you brush, have it text you a congratulatory message. It's slightly less functional than a Bluetooth toothbrush, but respects your privacy a hell of a lot more.


[0]: Okay, technically, a Pi is a bit overkill, but I'm not sure if it's simple to, say, hit a web API with an Arduino.

Yes, but that requires putting an SMTP server into the toothbrush. Now I suspect you secretly want Linux to run on the toothbrush, with DKIM and everything. But likely there are cost and form factor concerns that prevent a general OS from being there.

I could see a custom built API client, but then which endpoint does it hit? If it uses the API of the ToothCoach, Inc, then you will complain about TCI getting your tooth brushing data. So it uses bluetooth to hit your phone, in which case you might as well store all the inspirational messages on your phone instead of in toothbrush EEPROM

Oh, no, I wasn't thinking of putting the Pi into the toothbrush. I was thinking of it as a separate device: literally a pushbutton that toggles a GPIO pin that triggers hitting a web API to text you a congratulatory or encouraging message.

I think this is what I'm going to do. It seems to be an excellent toothbrush, aside from the app business.

Or just look into the older "dumb" versions of them. My Sonicare HX690 is by now over a decade old and still working perfectly fine.

They have some dumb versions available currently too. My understanding is that the same motor assembly from the higher end models is used in the 4100. You lose some unimportant customizable features, but you still get the 30sec pulses and 2min off time.

You are justifiably miffed! Return it and get the regular sonicare (eg from Costco) which has no app and no tracking.

I am the last person to suggest that an $80 toothbrush should replace a free or <$5 toothbrush but this is one of those rare things that are actually worth it. Your teeth feel 10x cleaner.

I seem to be the only person in the world to have gone in the reverse direction.

I use cheap as chips Listerine/Reach manual brushes, brush hard, and replace frequently. My teeth feel 10x cleaner than when I used an electric.

(But, I'm British, so my teeth must be awful right? Don't listen to me :) (self-trolling aside, I think that basically comes from 'mall'-based mouth-bleaching being less popular here? i.e. it's like saying someone who doesn't go to a tanning place 'has bad skin'...))

As someone who used to scrub more than brush teeth:

According to my dentist brushing too strongly can cause your gums to recede. And apparently they don't recover so damage is permanent. You are meant to use about 80 grams of pressure, which is pretty much none at all.

A decent electric toothbrush like a Sonicare feels like it cleans much better with hardly using any pressure. The base models are fine, all the additional options are unnecessary if you just want to brush your teeth. Personally, switching to an electric toothbrush has been the best thing.

This is correct. My gums unfortunately receded and * my teeth are extremely sensitive * the area is sore constantly * I will need a graft from elsewhere in my mouth to correct it.

yeah my dentist recommended i get an electric brush that warns you if you're applying to much force. turns out i was, a lot.

"brush hard" is bad advice. Brush very softly.

Cheap hardware is fine, just make sure bristles are soft/ultra soft (packaging will say soft somewhere).

And you only need to brush each tooth ~6x per side.

1. You're liable to strip the enamel from your teeth and encourage your gums to recede, exposing the roots.

2. With a sonicating toothbrush, I reduced my cleaning visits to once a year because there's usually nothing there for the hygienist to remove. Perhaps you tried the wrong kind of toothbrush?


> I reduced my cleaning visits to once a year because there's usually nothing there for the hygienist to remove.

I've never been to an oral hygienist; I go to the dentist once every 12-18 months on his advice. (Though currently almost two years due to the pandemic; emergency appointments only.)

> Perhaps you tried the wrong kind of toothbrush?

Yeah, there'd always be someone's preferred brand that I didn't try and would be better even if I was saying I liked the one I did - I just don't feel the need to try multiple expensive electric ones when manual seems fine to me, and in adult life at least check-ups have just been 'all good, see you in 12mo'.

> https://www.deltadentalins.com/oral_health/overbrushing.html

Perhaps I do brush too hard, I'll try (not doing) that. But that's surely an orthogonal issue, one could (I probably did) brush 'too hard' regardless of whether it's manual or electric.

20 bucks electric toothbrushes are the same, no need to spend 80 bucks. Just buy a brand model.

Hygiene guidelines may prevent OP from returning it if the item is open.

A store is a store. If he sells toothbrushes he has to take them back if the customer doesn’t want them. If he eats a loss on it, then maybe he should reconsider selling them.

Not necessarily. Depending on the country, stores can set their return policy when it comes to non-defective items. I know several major retailers that refuse returns on headphones if they have been opened due to hygiene issues. If the headphones are defective or unopened, then they will accept returns. OP returning a working toothbrush may fall under the same scenario.

I consider a toothbrush that requires an app a defective product.

I also have a Sonicare but I bought one of the basic models. I can really see the difference between brushing manually versus using an electric toothbrush. I would definitely be upset if my dentist recommended a more expensive model that is not necessary for my needs. But I hope you don't drop the idea of using electric toothbrushes because of this incident.

I work on an IoT device that does the most mundane of things and to think the data goes 1/2 way around the world just to turn something on with the service provided by the Chinese chip-making company who is absolutely only concerned with profit - I don't suggest they are spying - but wouldn't for a second have a problem handing over data if they were asked i.e. zero principles ...

It's just too much.

FYI one answer to all of this is some kind of 'home mesh network' that has some kind of central computing entity so that at least our IoT services work locally. One day Apple/Google may pull it off.

Honestly the more I think about this post the more hilarious it becomes. The first round I contemplated the internet of things and found it hilarious how a toothbrush would come with a smartphone app. The internet of toothbrushes. Hahaha

My second round of thought was that OP blindly followed his doctors advice, thinking his doctor was acting in his best interest, and spent a whopping $180 on a toothbrush. I love the comments pointing out how the doctor is likely paid by the toothbrush company to push a product.

The most interesting part is people are having the realization that people in authority that are usually seen as trusted (such as doctors) are capable of acting in their own best interest at the expense of their clients. It reminds me of a YouTube video I watched recently about starwars Lego figures. For years, Lego claimed they were unable to sell starwars figures individually because of licensing issues, and their fanbase believed them. But recently it came out that they were legally allowed to, but decided not to because it would be more profitable for them to force their fans to buy entire Lego sets just for the figures. The realization process that this youtuber goes through is comforting. He realizes that an authority figure (Lego) was takin I'm too fuking lazy to type this shit out. You get the point. Connect it to your government representatives on both sides and realize they don't care about you.

Why would you buy a $180 toothbrush when you can get a $20 Oral-B/Braun one? They're not even the cheapest because they are brand, and they're amazing, with no app and a simple design.

Don't you realize more expansive toothbrushes are the same, but with stupid apps and tracking sensors? Why would you want that?

Edit: Philips seems to be more prevalent than Oral-B in the US but the price ranges are the same. If you want the best tooth brushing experience, a 20 bucks electric toothbrush brush is fine. Any additional dollar goes to gadgety stuff

Lol why would you buy a $180 toothbrush? Brushing teeth is a solved problem with simple $0.5 brushes. Just be sure to rub all teeth and gums for 2 minutes. No need for motors and sensors.

It's just a scam that Philips is running in collaboration with dentists.

Electric toothbrushes do a better job of cleaning. The rotation/oscillation is better than what you can do manually. So the motors do a better job with less gum damage.

That doesn't explain having to attach BLE and an app, other than upselling "features".

Brand stratification and segmentation is a thing, but it's not a "scam", any more than any other marketing techniques.

First, try to return it. Next, get the cheapest Sonicare you can find. It should be $50 and dumb as a doorknob. After, get a new dentist that doesn't push overpriced garbage on you. Finally, make sure you floss because gum disease sucks.

My SO happens to be a DDS. We get new toothbrushes all the time and currently brush with a DiamondClean. You don't need any app interaction to use it. If that were the case it would have been donated before it was ever used.

I can only think of one reason your toothbrush needs internet - your dental costs keep going up and its a "tracker" that ties into your insurance as an incentive. Much like some employers do with healthcare plans.

Overall it sounds worthy of tweeting at Internet of Shit.

Digital habit reminders don't work for me. I need to wire that into my brain manually. Apparently I have a circuit in my brain for digital reminders that has a setting where I just turn them off.

I saw a similar box at a recent dental visit - I think it was about $150.

I glanced over the details and saw 'connect with app to show what's brushed properly and what part of mouth is missing during brushing routine' - something like that.

I joked with the front desk that this could be a good way to spy on the kids to make sure they are actually brushing when they are supposed to - and perhaps give them visual indicators that they can do better behind the teeth or whatever..

Now I think that something that can be used this way would help a LOT of parents/kids.. but I would need the app on either a tablet or the parents phone AND on a device for the kids to see - without location tracking and sending data to third parties.

researching these to find one similar to the one at the dentist (labeled available at DDs only or some such) - but it's a nightmare getting actual details about how the app may or may not work - when searching walmart/amazon/etc and several different brands..

I see another posted mentioned the optional app with the OralB Genius 6000' - that one line description has me leaning toward trying one of those for the little ones that need it.

If a toothbrush in the house is tracking location data - it better be just to send to parents to show that they have not moved more than an inch in the past 48 hours - not to sell to some ad company to resell.

Time to find a new dentist. He ripped you off.

Anything the $180 model can do, the baseline $30 model without Wi-Fi/Bluetooth can do.

If you have time to post about this here you probably have time to educate your dentist a bit on the drawbacks of this product. Maybe he can recommend you another one.

Either way he can't dictate what you use or don't use so you can just not use/buy it in the first place.

Dentist probably gets fat commission for pimping this overpriced nosense to his customers, so he won't care.

No idea why you'd need an app; I'm using OralB Genius 6000 and while it has an additional application it's totally optional (it got some brushing stats, led settings, "achievements" and a timer).

We're living in kinda funny times - toothbrush that tries to track its user hah

>No idea why you’d need an app

So that they can take and sell your information on a regular basis

I mean is that data actually valuable? They probably just made an app because people like apps. Well, not the people on HN, but normal people.

I mean in the context of this prescribed toothbrush - was the intention of the doctor to track and improve OPs oral hygiene with this app or app happened to be included by accident, while main idea was to maneuver OP into buying the device and give dentist a cut from some Philips affiliate sales program.

Contact your dentist and ask for a refund for brush.

This is nonsense and he should be able to honor this.

I have a Philips Sonicare DiamondClean from 2010 that never had an app. I don’t know what you can do about your existing toothbrush, but maybe you can get one that doesn’t require an app and still have it be prescribed?

I would demand a refund and make a fuss on social media if he refused. I would post negative reviews either way. People in the medical business that are paid to push products are disgusting.

I don't understand.

Please can you tell us what benefits an internet enabled *toothbrush* provides? Is somebody from SV seriously going to come along and tell us this enhances their life?

Using the app is not required to use the toothbrush. Just press the power button and use it like a normal electric toothbrush.

I wonder how you would hack an app that doesn't let you take printscreens...now let me think ;-)

I don't think the app is evil. More likely it's technical constraints + overly zealous approach in code to simplify UX.

FWIW Android has a weird peculiarity where the developer needs Location permission for Bluetooth to work (I don't know the details). (When I print wirelessly with my printer over WiFi, I need to enable location too).


> ACCESS_FINE_LOCATION Provides a more accurate location than one provided when you request ACCESS_COARSE_LOCATION. This permission is necessary for some connectivity tasks, such as connecting to nearby devices over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

About screenshots, it's the same as banking apps. I think they try to be overly cautious.

Anyway, can't the brush be used without the app?

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