Toothbrushes and Approved Electrical Devices

When I was a kid, we always came home from the dentist with a new toothbrush. I always wanted a blue one, though the fact that I don’t ever remember there being a fight over colors with my four siblings makes me question whether my childhood memories are the result of some low-rent Total Recall reprogramming of my brain.

But I’m sure about the toothbrushes, regardless of the color. Every six months, like clockwork: an admonition to brush better in the back, a roll of waxed, mint-flavored dental floss (never to be used), and a shiny new plastic toothbrush, wrapped in crinkly cellophane.

That was then. BT. Before Technology, as we now know it.

Two days ago, I returned from the dentist (not the same one, mind you), with a shiny new plastic toothbrush. But this one wasn’t wrapped in cellophane. It was packaged in a shoebox-sized container, its myriad bagged components cradled in vaccuum-molded styrofoam, its glossy packaging pronouncing it a Triumph in home dental care.

A Triumph, I tell you, a Triumph.

As I sit here in seat 7A of United flight 6457, I ponder that this triumph has led me to stray from the path of wisdom that my parents instilled in me. “Always carry a toothbrush and a change of underwear in your carry-on luggage – your bags don’t always end up where you do.”

Last night, thumbing through the 32-page (yes, 32 pages!) instruction manual for my Oral-B ProfessionalCare Triumph 9000 (can I get air-conditioning as an add-on?), I knew this thing would never make it through airport security. It looks like something a 21st century Tom Baker would tote along under his cape when the ole sonic screwdriver became passe. Oral-B included a travel case among the accessories that came shrink-wrapped with this visitor from the future of dentistry, but I wasn’t inclined to imperil my good standing with United and the NTSB by debating security guards over whether its contents could qualify as “an approved electrical device” for the purposes of air commerce.

The user manual alone is frightening. The first page begins with the admonition:

DANGER. In order to reduce the risk of burns, electrocution, fire or injury….

Remember, folks, this is a toothbrush. I picture the aftermath, when the police arrive:

“Whaddaya got, Sarge?”

“Dunno. Poor sap had some sort of accident – too badly burnt to even identify the body.

“Sure has shiny teeth, though.”


I made it past page 1 of the manual, but not far. Assembly and charging was no problem. When I reached page 6, “Configuring your Oral-B Triumph,” I knew I was done for. The manual required me to personalize my toothbrush by selecting which of 13 languages I wanted the toothbrush to use for its display prompts, and how I wanted the “quadrant timer” to indicate that it was time to move on to another part of my mouth.

Language? Yes – did I neglect to mention that the Oral-B Triumph is equipped with its own personalizable user interface? It offers polishing, full-strength, soft, and “massage” motion. It warns when you’re pressing too hard. If you’ve done a good job, it gives you a smiley face when you’re finished. Its built-in display screen compares favorably with those of the arcade games I haunted in college, though in fairness, the arcade games never opined that I might suffer burns or electrocution at their hands.

But that was enough for me. The Triumph 9000 never made it into the flight bag. Somewhere below me in the baggage compartment, my trusty non-configurable analog never-needs batteries plastic soft-bristle toothbrush waits to be reunited with its owner. Maybe it won’t give me the brightest smile in the world, but at least it won’t threaten to electrocute me if I don’t follow all of its instructions. And y’know, somehow, I just think it speaks my language.

* It turns out that the toothbrush wouldn’t have been the tipping point in terms of good standing with the airline. When my previous set of flights had been canceled and rescheduled, United failed to clean up after themselves, and left me booked on two different flights leaving for Denver at the same time. One from San Francisco, and one from Boston. The resulting implied violation of the time-space continuum apparently set off some bells at the TSA, and I arrived at the SFO airport to find that I’d been placed on their “No Fly” list until the matter was sorted out. They relented when I assured them that I had no desire to simultaneously be on both flights (from opposite corners of the country) and would be delighted to just be on any flight leaving for Denver in the near future. But it’s a damned good thing I didn’t have the Triumph 9000 in my carry-on, or I’d probably be rubbing shoulders with other “enemy combatants” in Guantanamo while my hosts scratched their heads over what happened to their invited speaker.

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