Electric Toothbrush


The goal of the project is to develop an attachment or a system that will enable a regular electric toothbrush to have suction capabilities.

I joined the team because the project seemed so practical to me. I could create a small, practical solution to create a large, real-world impact. That was the most exciting part.

Meena G, Class of 2022

The Problem

The Duke ALS clinic works with patients suffering from ALS, a muscular degenerative disease, by assisting them in rehabilitation and working to slow the effect of the disease. One specific challenge the clinic noticed was that adults suffering from ALS lack the ability to brush their own teeth, making them feel constantly dependent on others. Partnering with Duke’s First Year Design (FYD) program, the ALS clinic proposed a challenge for the students: create an adaptable, user-friendly toothbrush that can be independently used by individuals suffering from ALS.

The Process

The team eventually decided on creating the solution of a custom, ergonomic 3D printed adapter which connects a suction machine to an electric toothbrush. Using the wide variety of 3D printers available on campus, in addition to Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, the team’s final solution includes a “kit” with specialized adapters to fit a varied representation of electric toothbrush brands, such as Oral-B or Phillips.

Coming up with this solution wasn’t easy, though. The team faced many challenges that had to be overcome in order to create this final prototype. One of the biggest challenges the team faced was knowing how to use the CAD software and 3D printers to even be able to come with the solution. The team spent time fully understanding how to prototype designs and print materials through the staff in the Engineering Design Pod, out of which FYD operates.

When the team felt like everything was working against them, they pushed forward. “One of the biggest ‘aha’ moments we had as a team was when we CAD-ed and printed a solution to our project that finally fit! It seemed after weeks of printing prototypes that were subpar, and non-integratable, we were able to make one--just one--design that worked. We took it and ran with it,” says Frank.

However, they are also sure to acknowledge their ability to overcome challenges wasn’t a lone fight. The team attributes much of their ability to overcome obstacles with the help of several mentors assigned to their teams. They mention they are grateful for one of their biggest supporters: Leighanne Davis, their ‘technical mentor’.

They’ve now taken their product to the real world. After receiving IRB approval for human testing, they regularly visit the ALS clinic to test their product, receive feedback, and iterate. They’ve also applied for a provisional patent they hope to receive soon.