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Firms offer doodads in a quest for bites of toothbrush market

NEW ORLEANS -- Battery-powered toothbrushes. Tongue scrapers. Tongue brushes. Fingertip stick-on toothbrushes.

Americans put a lot of money into their mouths -- $1.6 billion on toothpaste alone last year. Companies eager for a bite of that were out in force for the recent North American Chain Drug Store marketplace conference in New Orleans.You could choose from several styles of plastic or metal gizmos designed to scrape plaque and sulfur-producing bacteria from the tiny cracks and fissures in your tongue -- not to mention a flat round brush intended for the same purpose.

Each company, of course, was selling its product as the one and only best. And they weren't shy about bad-mouthing the competition.

Dr. Clifford Yudelman of San Diego, whose tongue scraper is a long oval ring with a handle that goes out and down, said a competitor's tongue brush had such coarse bristles it left his tongue raw.

No, no -- you need bristles to get into the crevices, said Tom Oechslin of Peak Enterprises Inc. He took a display card off the wall and scrapes its flat edge down the length of a 4-foot-long 3-D hard plastic tongue draped on one wall.

"If this were a tabletop, you could squeegee it off," he said. "But the tongue has a lot of nooks and crannies where germs hide under plaque."

Americans spent $1.23 billion on toothbrushes and dental accessories last year, up 13.7 percent from 1997, according to Information Resources Inc. of Chicago, and more than $600 million on mouthwash.