Cell phones vs. toothbrushes: Sounds like an opportunity

I recently received a pitch from a flack that contained a disturbing but interesting statistic: More people own a cell phone (5.1 billion) than own a toothbrush (4.2 billion).

The figures were unattributed, however, and my first reaction was: Really? I want to look that up.

I started looking online and fortunately found that someone already had done the work. Nicole Hall, self-described data junkie and account manager at BKV Digital and Direct Response, wrote about her research in a blog post back in October.  

It turns out that this is an oft-quoted “fact” and, despite the difficulty of finding reliable figures for ownership of either cell phones or toothbrushes, she concluded that “in all likelihood, more people own a mobile phone on the planet than own a toothbrush.”

My second thought was that this sounded like an opportunity. There was a fortune to be made in supplying this unmet demand with a smart cell-brush. I pitched the idea to GCN Lab Director John Breeden II, who has an entrepreneurial as well as a technical bent. Unfortunately, he was only cautiously optimistic.

“Good idea,” he said. “Though I’d be concerned it would lead to people brushing their teeth while driving.”

Given the Transportation Department’s recent campaign against distracted driving, this might be an idea whose time has not yet come. Hmm, I wonder how many people own combs…


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


  • 2020 Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    21 Public Sector Innovation award winners

    These projects at the federal, state and local levels show just how transformative government IT can be.

  • Federal 100 Awards
    cheering federal workers

    Nominations for the 2021 Fed 100 are now being accepted

    The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31.

Stay Connected