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Hong Kong innovators

Toothbrush harder to build than Mars rover part is ‘breakthrough’ in dental care, Hong Kong inventor says

  • Ng Tze-chuen gained fame for his gripper tool on the Beagle 2 Mars lander, and has now co-designed a toothbrush targeting all dental surfaces
  • Duo claim product can prevent gum disease
PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2018, 9:18pm

The Hong Kong inventor who created a space tool for a Mars rover has co-designed a “breakthrough” that he says can revolutionise toothbrushing.

Dr Ng Tze-chuen, honorary associate professor of the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of dentistry, and Jin Lijian, professor of periodontology, unveiled their NJ Toothbrush on Monday, which they said is the only brush in the world targeting all dental surfaces.

They have filed US and international patents and are in talks with toothbrush companies to market their invention.

Ng, a dentist by trade, found fame as the garage inventor who designed a pair of planetary rock grippers for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Beagle 2 Mars lander.

He said the new toothbrush was a simple design but it was more difficult to make than the space tool.

“All the features have to be right in such a small space. It is more difficult than the Mars exploration tool as you can add motors and electronics, but for this one, it is all mechanical.”

He acknowledged that the toothbrush was “not as interesting” as the Mars project, but it could have a bigger impact as it affected more people directly.

Describing their design as “a breakthrough in dental health care,” Ng said it has bristles of varying lengths mounted on a rotating hinge. This would help clean all surfaces of teeth, including hard-to-reach areas such as behind the molars and gum line.

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Ng said current brushing methods, even with electric toothbrushes available on the market, are random and require hand dexterity.

The pair said their invention did all the work for users, with brushing taking only one to two minutes, and it also prevents the abrasion of dental surfaces.

Computer mapping was used in the development of the tool, according to them. Ng said the usage method involved moving the brush along a “dental arch track”, from “one side of the mouth to the other without stopping”.

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He added that they hoped the invention could prevent gum disease, which affects some 538 million people globally.

A Department of Health survey in 2001 found that patients as young as 12 in Hong Kong already showed risks of developing gum disease.

“When you use normal toothbrushes, you prevent tooth decay. But when you are not brushing properly, you can develop gum diseases,” Ng said.

But he said it was not easy to convince toothbrush companies that a change of design was needed.