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There are few drugs more readily available to 21st century Americans than caffeine. It long ago made the jump from coffee and sodas into energy drinks and guarana-infused shots, and now the leg-jiggling alkaloid is worming its way out of your drinks and into your food via "energized” sunflower seeds and “extreme sport” jelly beans. The myriad marriages of snack and psychostimulant have become so widespread that the FDA announced earlier this month they would be investigating the “very disturbing” trend and its potential effects on children.
And now, documents suggest caffeine could show up somewhere even farther from the coffee cup: your toothbrush.
A patent application that recently became public record reveals the Colgate-Palmolive Company is researching technology that would allow chemicals to be embedded into the heads of standard toothbrushes and slowly released during use.
A three-month supply of caffeine could be embedded into the tongue-scraper on the back of a toothbrush, the application reads. So could doses of aspirin. Or benzocaine, for teething babies. Or, it expressly states, appetite suppressants. Colgate wants to patent a diet toothbrush.
The toothbrushes would be delineated by differently shaped tongue cleaners: An apple shape means apple flavor, a snowflake means a cooling sensation. A toothbrush featuring a warming sensation would be indicated by a candle, the Sun, or, the application proposes, “a flamethrower.”
Sriracha-infused toothbrush, anybody?
While Colgate could not be reached for comment about the potential for bringing the product to market, it shows startling innovation for a company selling a dental-cleaning implement that has gone conceptually unchanged for more than 500 years.
But this innovation comes at a turbulent time for the “caffeinate everything” movement. Wrigley just announced that it would be pulling their new “Alert” caffeine gum off the market until the FDA has some time to do its research, and the agency has so far not provided any timeline for a ruling, if there will even be one.
“The gum is just one more unfortunate example of the trend to add caffeine to food,” said FDA deputy commissioner Michael R. Taylor, in a statement that also warned against both energy drinks being marketed to children and caffeinated waffles even existing. Taylor indicated plans to investigate caffeine’s effects on adolescents and “address the types of products that are appropriate for the addition of caffeine,” which could lead to regulation against “some in the food industry” that seem to be “on a dubious, potentially dangerous path.”
One day, your tongue cleaner may have an appetite suppressant reservoir built in.
The FDA's potential stance on the proposed caffeinated toothbrushes is unclear, and trying to find someone at the organization to speculate proved to be less than fruitful. Standard toothbrushes don’t need to wait for FDA approval to be sold, so long as their design is submitted to the agency.
But if the experience of Beam Technologies is any indication, caffeinated toothbrushes would face some serious head winds. When the company released a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush last year, the FDA stepped in immediately, according to GigaOM, saying that the new toothbrush was essentially a new medical device, meaning the FDA needed to clear it before it went to market. They’d likely have something to say about a toothbrush that replaced music and an iPhone app with drugs.
Another group that will likely want to jump into the fray is the Colgate marketing department: In addition to the flamethrower-shaped tongue cleaner, the application also suggests that a toothbrush featuring “a floral material might be communicated by a representation of a female figure, while a musk scent might be communicated by a representation of a male figure.” Appeal of a musky toothbrush aside, the labels could get interesting.
So, too, when it comes to combining sensations: A cooling/lemon combo might feature “a snowflake within a lemon,” for example, and one can only imagine what convoluted hieroglyphs would surface on a combination cheeseburger/caffeine toothbrush; ditto the toothbrushes containing “active materials designed for sporting activities, such as, for example, energy boosting materials, vitamins, minerals and the like.”
Really, supplement-infused toothbrushes shouldn't come as much of a surprise in a world where Vitamin Water exists. People love any health or food technology that offers perceived added benefits, and aside from adding Bluetooth and lasers, how else are firms going to disrupt the toothbrush game? By adding musky vitamin strips, of course.