Photo courtesy of Kathy Locke at
2004 De Clew P01

From concept to reality, and what happens in ‘between’

May 1, 2020
Both growing a dental practice and growing a brand and product involve a certain degree of risk, and both require developing skills that sit outside of the normal realm of clinical dentistry.

When writing this article, my business partner and I discussed the similarities between growing a dental practice and growing a brand and product. Both involve a certain degree of risk, and both require developing skills that sit outside of the normal realm of clinical dentistry. Creating a successful business involves a bold vision and strategy, testing new ideas, building partnerships, and assembling the pieces to produce a profitable practice or product.

The first step in manufacturing a product is to answer, “Can this actually be made?” I found a manufacturer, and to my dismay, my original design was unable to be produced in a way that would generate a profit. While modifications to the design were being made, I was working on obtaining a patent and testing components for prototypes, not typical things we’re taught in dental school! I was also practicing full-time and running the business side of both of my dental offices. 

Enter a new partner

I needed help, and I found it while I was out to dinner with a friend who is now my business partner. As fate would have it, Brittney McLaughlin had a stubborn piece of spinach stuck between her teeth. I decided to tell her what I had been working on and pulled out the prototype (and the solution to her dilemma) from my purse. She was excited to help and was a perfect fit for the job given her background in sales and marketing. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, but also to bring new ideas and connections to the table. Soon our dinners together were filled with planning and projections, exciting discussions about branding and graphic design, and a free flow of ideas and sketches as we worked through each new challenge.

We partnered with a local business to finalize our graphic design and create our website and source packaging. We tweaked the lip balm formulation and continued to test 3-D printed prototypes, including pocket and purse testing to assess size and scale. We also visited several retailers in Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas. Everyone we met was supportive and offered great feedback that resulted in improvements to our packaging and retail display. 

The product caught on quickly

In my practice, I tested over two dozen types of dental floss from all over the world. Once our selection was finalized, we implemented the new floss. We then received so many inquiries from patients that I decided to produce and market the floss in a refillable container. This is something we’re selling successfully to both dentists and retail customers. 

With our momentum and investment, we were ready to take Between Floss & Gloss from 3-D printed model to reality. With our final design in hand, our plastics manufacturer negotiated the purchase of our manufacturing tool. This was the largest single investment we made, similar to buying a new car. The product was finally ready to launch, but were we ready? We had been so focused on the product development, yet we still had to figure out social media, labor and assembly, inventory management, and distribution. We knew there would be unanticipated setbacks but instead of letting the fear of “what if” paralyze us, we believed in the product enough to take the leap.

What can go wrong?

The first inevitable wrinkle was that our labels did not adhere to the plastic as we had hoped. Next, our boxes showed wear at the corners. We also found assembly to be a bit more challenging than what our team could handle to produce large quantities of the product. We were already a few thousand units into production with several thousand more ready for assembly. The label and packaging were easy tweaks to make; however, it meant relabeling and repackaging finished quantities on hand and discarding the labels and boxes we had already purchased. 

This kind of waste hurts a business when it’s bootstrapping, but our desire for quality demanded we make the reinvestment. Scaling the manufacturing has proven to be a bit more challenging because we are now reverse engineering some of the components to make filling the balm more efficient and the assembly more cost effective. We are currently testing prototypes with a revised design and will soon be ready to invest in a second and more expensive manufacturing tool (think luxury car), all before the first tool realized its output potential. 

We are now on an ambitious timeline to finalize the second tool, manufacture the components, and have our new and improved product to market by the third quarter of 2020. Our large refillable dispenser of floss (an unanticipated success) is already in retail and we are working to finalize distribution. 

So, what have Brittney and I learned while on this journey? Between us, here’s our best advice:

Be willing to throw out the good or even great ideas that are no longer working. 

Be open to feedback and willing to grow both personally and professionally.

Know that falling forward is still progress. 

Create and share your vision. You will be energized by support from colleagues, family, and friends.

Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. Be curious and seek out new skill sets and have interesting conversations with strangers. You’ll be surprised by the opportunities that unfold.

Be willing to invest. We often joke that we could have invested in Ivy League MBAs with the time and funds we put into the trial and error of bringing Between to market, but we are grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to learn and grow. 

We are excited to see what the future holds and where the road less traveled will take us! Follow our journey @betweenfloss.

Editor's note: This article is the second in a series about Dr. Amanda Lewis' entrepreneurial venture. The first article appeared in the April issue of Dental Economics.

AMANDA LEWIS, DMD, graduated from Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine in 2004 and opened her first practice in 2006. She currently owns two offices in Central Illinois, where she and her amazing team strive to provide comprehensive care to their patients. Dr. Lewis is the creator of Between Floss & Gloss. She and her business partner, Brittney McLaughlin, work to improve their products and are open to opportunities, ideas, and feedback. Contact her at [email protected] or visit

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