London, Apr.5 : Technology experts at the National Taiwan University have applied a "learning through play" approach to make it fun for children to brush their teeth.
Hao-hua Chu and his colleagues say that they have created a toothbrush that makes oral hygiene a game.
The researchers have added three LEDs to the end of a normal toothbrush, which can be tracked using computer vision technology.
Using a webcam, which can be mounted on the wall above the bathroom sink, the movements of the "Playful Toothbrush" can be tracked in three dimensions and the data fed into a computer.
The computer distinguishes the orientation of the brush, and can also track its x-axis "roll" and z-axis "yaw".
The researchers say that the information fed into the computer can be used to determine the position of the toothbrush head, and to work out precisely which teeth the bristles are in contact with at any given moment.
"We initially tried using motion sensors - 3D accelerometers - similar to the ones in the Wii remote. But we were only able to accurately detect four rough teeth areas: upper-lower, and left-right," New Scientist quoted Chu as saying.
The researchers insist that the new system can accurately distinguish 24 different areas in the mouth.
They have also added a simple computer game to their toothbrush, which uses sound and vision to encourage children to scrub colourful dirt from a set of virtual teeth shown on a computer screen.
As the children clean their own teeth, they see an instant impact on the virtual teeth.
Testing the Playful Toothbrush on a class of 13 kindergarten children, the researchers found that the children were twice as effective at cleaning their teeth after five days of trial with the new system.
"I was confident it would work, based on 25 years' clinical experience with children. But the results are beyond my expectations," says Jin-Ling Lo, an occupational therapist on Chu's team.
The researchers are now considering how modified versions of the game could appeal to older children.
"For older children or adults, the design considerations may be slightly different. Users could download their preferred games according to their age and gender," Chu says.
The researchers gave a presentation on "Playful Toothbrush" at the 26th Computer and Human Interaction conference in Florence, Italy.