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Wake Students Brace for National Attention With a Big Idea for Toothbrushes

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RALEIGH — A group of Wake County students almost scrapped an invention idea that seemed too simple for a class project. Now the group is sporting big smiles, because they did not give their little idea the big brush off.

Those who wear braces say toothbrushes are nothing to smile about.

"It's especially hard to get under the wires to clean the food out of there. It's embarrassing if you do have food under there," says student Anne Tomasevich.

It is a problem too big for a group of students at Davis Drive Middle School to brush aside. They have an idea for a new toothbrush, and the National Science Foundation is taking a close look.

The Bayer/National Science Foundation's Annual Big Ideas competition asks students to troubleshoot an idea and come up with solutions.

This team decided to build a better toothbrush.

Starting with an old flathead, students made tiny cuts with tiny scissors. The Big Idea was to make a brush which fits around the metal parts of braces.

"The bristles are so small. It was hard to make the intricate designs and everything," says student Kyle Butler. "The hardest thing was cleaning up afterward, because bristles are everywhere."

The tips of this brush can get right under the wire.

"Instead of just taking notes and reading books, it really took a lot more thinking," says student Laura Myer.

It also took some field testing. Students made six prototypes and gave them to friends to test.

"Some of them didn't get under the bristles right, and some of them just hurt your gums and things like that," says student Christine Hackett of the prototypes.

In the end, the new and improved toothbrush won rave reviews in the survey and a semi-finalist award in the national contest.

The Big Ideas program will name 10 finalist teams on April 17th. Those teams will face off in a national championship where winners share a $20,000 prize.