When Your Toothbrush Believes in You, Anything is Possible

Thank you, toothbrush. I always knew you believed in me.

Both polite and informative.

I’m the type of man who is very much interested in getting that dentist clean feeling at home. As such, I bought an electric toothbrush. I went with the Oral-B Triumph Professional Care series not because of its excellent reviews, but because the product name is one step away from being word salad.

While I’m not here to shill toothbrushes (only because I haven’t been paid to shill toothbrushes), I was very impressed by the automatic timer on the brush, which ensures that my mouth gets the full two minutes of cleaning it deserves. Prior to this, I could come up with any number of excuses: I brush faster than normal, my teeth weren’t that dirty, it felt like two minutes, etc. Now I can’t lie to myself; I know when I have a dirty-ass mouth.

Or could I? After all, this electric toothbrush spins at a rate I could never replicate with the standard model. If two minutes with the regular toothbrush was enough, why not just 30 seconds with the electric one?

Because it smiles at you when you do it right.

It sounds like an insult: “oh, you want a gold star? A smiley face sticker?” And those things would be insulting, because bringing a physical product into this—even one as small as a sticker—would just clutter up the situation. I don’t need to advertise to the world that I brushed my teeth for two minutes; I just need to know that my toothbrush is proud of me.

I imagine they must have focus grouped the shit out of the smile. It’s not obnoxious, not overbearing, just a little non-verbal reminder that you fucking nailed toothbrushing. And it works. To the point that the few times I’ve had to cut it short, I was actually a little disappointed that I’d let the toothbrush down.

On the one hand, that sounds like how the machines take over—ingratiating themselves until we require their approval. But let’s take a minute to think about the non-Judgment Day applications of this. I’ve long maintained that the genius of the Vest Airway Clearance system is not that it’s a more efficient way of mucus clearance, but that it’s harder to half-ass then other techniques. Prior to the Vest, I could always use the “well, that certainly felt like 30 minutes” excuse. Now I actually have to hit an extra button to stop early, so I might as well just ride it out.

Since we’ve already established I don’t always have two minutes to brush my teeth (don’t judge me), it’s no surprise that I’ve had to cut a 30 minute Vesting session short. When I do the full session the display shows “SESSION COMPLETED”. If I cut it short, it shows “INCOMPLETE __ MIN REMAIN”. The meanings are different, but emotionally they register the same.

Here's an idea: tell someone who gives a fuck.

Here’s an idea: tell someone who gives a fuck.

Which brings me to my actual point: compliance. When it comes to keeping up with every single treatment, there are two kinds of people: the kind who falter from time to time and liars. Sometimes I’m just too damn tired to put the Vest on. The mucus will still be there in the morning; I’ll shake it out then.

Skipping one Vest session usually doesn’t have terribly adverse effects. Skipping two does, but it’s not immediate and we as a species are terrible at identifying feedback unless it’s right in our face. My lungs could just as easily feel like shit because I accidentally walked past a Yankee Candle. Maybe I don’t need to Vest at all.

Unfortunately, the voice that says “Yes you fucking do need to Vest!” doesn’t show up for a couple of days, by which point I’m already behind, so it takes a lot of time to even out. And when you feel worse, the feedback is even less immediate, because the mucus has had a chance to get entrenched.

I didn’t have the Vest when I was younger, but I had other airway clearance devices that I found ways to half-ass. I’d snap in line when I was sure that my reckless ways had sealed my fate, but mistakes are quickly forgotten in the face of another 30 minutes of postural drainage. Also, I was 8 years old. At that time, 30 minutes was a much longer portion of my lifetime.

And clearing my lungs out was just a side effect of my actual purpose for airway clearance: I didn’t want my mother to beat me.

More accurately, I didn’t want my mother to have to do my airway clearance for me (though it should be said that my mom can smack the shit out of some mucus). That was fine when I was younger, but once I became a strong, independent 8-year old, I wanted to be on my own (honestly, I think I started earlier than that, but I refer to 6 year old me a lot in my writing, so I thought I’d change it up). I also didn’t want to get yelled at. I didn’t want my mom to be upset and have the doctors disappointed in me, meaning actual airway clearance was 2nd or 3rd on my list of reasons for doing airway clearance.

But the other day when I was brushing me teeth, I looked down to see how proud the toothbrush was and I thought “I wonder what would happen if the Vest smiled at me.” Or, more accurately, I wonder what would happen if the Vest smiled at me when I was young. What if there were instant feedback—not anything big, just something a little less clinical than “SESSION COMPLETE.” Maybe we could even branch out into gamification: games on my phone give me a reward for showing up everyday—why not get something for strapping in for another wild Vest ride?

Or maybe I should just shut up and cough.

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