Researcher Gets Grant to Invent Toothbrush for Patients with Disabilities

Dr. Maxine Strickland

Dr. Maxine Strickland received nearly $95,000 in funding from Rutgers University’s Tech Advance to work with NJIT designers on inventing a toothbrush for people with disabilities.

Her idea was inspired by time she spent volunteering at the Matheny School for the developmentally disabled in Peapack-Gladstone. “A lot of patients there had trouble keeping their teeth clean,’’ said Strickland, an associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic Sciences. “A pulmonologist usually reviewed the patients eating ability and I worked with him regarding the patients’ tooth brushing. I learned that many were aspirating when they brushed their teeth. They can’t spit out the liquid, so the liquid goes into their lungs because of poor muscle control. This can create an illness like pneumonia.”

Strickland believes that an electric toothbrush that suctioned liquid during brushing would solve the problem. “The power toothbrush is superior to the manual toothbrush at removing plaque. If we can combine a suction method with an electric toothbrush, that would help tremendously,’’ contended Strickland.

The toothbrush could also be used for children, she said. “I know that parents are often concerned that their child would swallow the tooth paste would take some of the stress away,’’

So far, Strickland and NJIT faculty Dr. Vivek Kumar are collaborating on an early version of the toothbrush and hope to refine it and start clinical trials within the year. “We want to make it really esthetic,’’ she said. “Oral health, as we know, is important for overall health. If we can take something we use every day and repackage it for this population that would be a good thing.’’