We’ve been extolling the virtues of electronic devices as a means of collecting risk data recently. We’ve looked at some of the more sensible options like Jawbone Up and this week we’d like to take a look at another new product – one that we’re not so certain will produce major benefits at the moment.
Beam Brush – The Theory
The Beam Brush is a toothbrush. It’s a $50 (well $49.99) toothbrush. The idea is simple enough the Beam Brush contains an RFID chip and some other clever electronics so that it can monitor the way you brush your teeth. It then integrates with a smart phone application which delivers data on how often you brush your teeth.
The idea being that the longer you brush your teeth each day the healthier they will be. In order to make that “fun” the application comes with some kids games (so that children will buy into oral health without stern lectures from the dentist) and tangible rewards for adults (in the form of cash or discounts on products).
Beam Brush – The Company Line on Insurance Premiums
In a recent article in Advertising Age, Alex Frommeyer who is the co-founder of the company explained that he doesn’t believe that his company makes toothbrushes so much as data collectors. He feels that the data generated by little Johnny failing to brush his teeth will be valuable to insurance companies in the dental hygiene sector who can then punish Johnny’s parents with higher insurance premiums. Little Suzie’s parents on the other hand will be rewarded with lower premiums for her fastidious dental hygiene regime.
Beam Brush – Our Take on That
We like the idea of technology being innovative and put to new uses when it comes to managing risks for premiums. The trouble is that we don’t think that Beam Brush is a particularly good solution – we could find no data to support the idea that Beam Brush can differentiate between brushing a child’s teeth and say brushing the bathroom wall (a perennial favorite of children trying to get out of a hated task).
We’re also unable to find data to support the idea that it’s only regular brushing that influences the health of someone’s teeth. There is a reasonable body of evidence, for example, to the contrary that highlights the dangers of using fluoride toothpastes on children’s teeth and the more they brush with that – the worse their teeth might be.
There may also be privacy issues with harvesting children’s data for purposes like this. In general the United States has a more relaxed regime than the European Union for data harvesting and the right to privacy is less important there.
The other problem is the expense. The toothbrushes are $50 (that’s £35) a pop. Each member of the family must have their own (the heads are interchangeable but only one brush can be tracked per application – so that also means each member of the family including 5 year old Johnny will either need a smartphone or an iPod to benefit from them). That’s a lot of money for a households toothbrushes and it’s a lot of money you might need to shell out again and again as Beam Brush’s website confesses that if your child were to submerge their toothbrush in water (which isn’t an uncommon occurrence) it might not work anymore. That’s right these are electronic toothbrushes which aren’t 100% water-proof.
We like where Beam Brush is heading. We think that when the devices are capable of producing more data they’ll be of a huge help. Detecting damage to the surface of teeth, changes in pH of the saliva, etc. will be able to assist parents in ensuring that Johnny’s teeth are quickly protected by a dental professional and cut down on more expensive dental surgery further down the line. But today we’re not quite convinced that this is an essential step for insurance brokers focused on dental policies.