The New York Times
Business Day… Monday, November 16, 1998

Patents – Sabra Chartrand
“An entrepreneur hopes that sterilized dental floss will encourage people to keep their teeth cleaner.”

Many people dislike flossing their teeth and do so irregularly. Flossing has such a bad image that people tend to floss erratically even when they understand that it is the only way to really clean below the gum line. But Sean Dix is hoping that those people who do use dental floss will prefer a sterile product. Mr. Dix is a former diamond cutter turned inventor who won a patent a few years ago for inexpensive plastic rings that aid flossing. He had trouble flossing himself because of a skin condition: wrapping thin floss around his fingers irritated them. So he designed the rings, won a patent, quit his diamond-cutting job and became a full-time floss entrepreneur. Now Mr. Dix, who lives in New York, is expanding his business to include his newly patented sterile dental floss. His latest invention started when he learned how floss is traditionally manufactured. “Currently, floss is produced in spool form using machinery slightly altered from the sewing thread industry”, Mr. Dix said. “The spools are spun out into a bin six inches from the floor.” The spools are then packaged by hand, he added.

“The problem with hand assembly is that even though workers wear gloves, they still have the probability of dropping the spool on the floor or scratching their face and then handling the spools,” he said. Some manufacturers also coat floss with beeswax, Mr. Dix said, which “as an organic compound naturally decays and promotes the growth of mold.”
The resulting product, Mr. Dix said, meets the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements of what is known as 10-3 sterility assurance level. Mr. Dix said that meant floss manufacturers had to practice “good manufacturing procedures.”

“An interesting comparison would be that Band-Aids are held by F.D.A. regulation to a 10-6, meaning zero microbes,” he said. “The reason being that Band-Aids come into contact with the blood through compromised tissue, much like floss comes into contact with the blood in the soft tissues beneath the gum line.” Not surprisingly, Mr Dix said his market research had found that “100 percent of those surveyed said they would choose a sterilized floss over a non-sterilized floss if given the option.” But he also acknowledged that the National Institute of Dental Research had not studied the possibility that floss can transmit bacteria. Under Mr. Dix’s patent, floss assembly is automated. Parallel strands of floss are stretched from master spools “such that the strands resemble a web coming off a loom,” Mr. Dix writs in his patent. The floss is laminated with a glassine substrate that can be sterilized. Beads of melted adhesive are dabbed on the floss at intervals, and then the web is cut at those spots to create floss segments with sealed tips.

“There is no human contact with the floss,” so it stays clean, he said. The master spool of floss and the paper used to package it are loaded onto the machine at the same time, so that it can produce packages containing 100 floss segments each. Mr. Dix received patent 5,819,767.