As a dental hygienist, Lisa Guenst regularly told patients that they needed to floss more often to prevent gum disease. Oftentimes, Guenst’s words fell on deaf ears. After more than two decades of working in the dental industry, however, she decided to take a different approach.
Guenst developed the ToothShower, a dynamic device that hooks to the water source in a person’s shower. The device eliminates string flossing and bulky water flossers that live under bathroom sinks. The ToothShower is simply a shower for your teeth as it sends a strong stream of water between the teeth to cleanse the gums and teeth.
ToothShower received an incredible amount of interest and after initially completing crowdfunding for the device, Guenst launched the product in 2019. Since then, Guenst has seen tremendous growth as interest in the device continues to increase from around the world.
Lisa, you are the creator of ToothShower, a dental care company which manufactures products that make oral home care easier and more enjoyable. Can you tell us what inspired you to create the company?
I had worked as a dental hygienist in several dentists’ offices after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Dental Hygiene. Throughout my 25-year career, I always saw the same problem, patients with inflamed and bleeding gums, termed gingivitis. I knew gum disease could be prevented with good oral hygiene but patients hate to string floss. Gingivitis can cause serious problems like permanent bone loss, and while I understood the severity of this situation, my patients often did not. Tooth brushing alone cannot reach the areas between the teeth where gum disease often starts.
The idea behind the ToothShower is to water floss while bathing. Is it more likely that people will focus on dental hygiene while showering rather than at any other time during the day?
The way to make something a habit is to have it be convenient. Water flossing in the shower is more convenient than at the sink. Water flossing at the sink makes a mess and requires countertop space, which causes people to store their water flosser under their sink and forget about it. ToothShower is always set up and ready to use in the shower with no mess to clean-up. You will be more apt to use it and make it a habit.
The ToothShower completely changes the way in which people water floss. Old-fashioned water flossers are bulky and take up space on the bathroom counter. By making the ToothShower a device that lives in the shower, Guenst made water flossing a task that can be done while bathing and is a part of everyday hygiene.
What is the difference between the ToothShower and traditional countertop water flossers?
The ToothShower requires no countertop space, electrical outlet, battery to charge, water reservoir to refill, noisy motor, mess to clean up at the sink, or need to bend over a sink.
Lisa, it took three years to go from design to market. Were there ever times you thought the device would never see the light of day? How did you see the design through to market?
Sure, it was difficult to continue on when the costs just kept creeping up. I have a great passion for my product and whenever there was an obstacle, I knew the need for this product was so great that I should continue on and overcome it.
As dentists and dental hygienists often say, flossing is one of the most important parts of good oral health. In spite of what professionals claim about flossing, however, many individuals shrug it off and believe flossing to be unimportant. Not so, says Guenst, as it can greatly improve overall oral health.
How important is flossing when it comes to dental hygiene and how does a water flosser improve oral health?
People don’t realize that their toothbrush does not clean between their teeth. This is why gum disease often starts in this space and why dental hygienists are always asking their patients to floss. Most people hate to string floss and find it difficult to use. Over half of adult Americans have some form of gum disease. Many do not realize that they can keep gum disease away with better home care.
You began your career as a dental hygienist. How did you make the crossover to being an entrepreneur and what challenges did you find when launching your own company?
The crossover to becoming an entrepreneur began when I entered two business plan competitions and won both of them. The one at Temple University in Philadelphia went on to offer a summer full of business mentoring. This mentoring helped me to become an entrepreneur. There were many challenges going from being a health professional to a business owner.
Lisa, you won awards for the ToothShower’s innovative business plan from Temple University Fox School of Business and the West Chester University’s Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center in April 2017. How significant were these awards as an entrepreneur and business owner?
These competitions forced me to have a crash course in starting a business. I didn’t even know what a business plan was. I researched how to write one on Google, which is how I learned most of my business knowledge. I started to write the business plan about three months prior to the competitions, had friends and family review it, and finally submitted it. My plan was chosen to be a finalist in the competitions. I presented the plan and won! After winning, I was mentored further at the Fox School of Business and furthered my crash courses in business. This led me to speaking at different business schools about my start-up experiences. I had started our initial funding by offering a ToothShower at a discounted price on two different crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter and Indiegogo. We raised so much money on these sites that it enabled us to start having our plastic injection molds created for our first round of production. Our success in crowdfunding sparked a lot of interest from Temple University and a local college, Ursinus College. I spoke about our success to their entrepreneur students. Ursinus College then went on to offer us a few college interns to assist in starting our social media awareness.
Like many modern entrepreneurs, Guenst decided to crowdfund the initial start-up and production costs of the ToothShower. Offering the water flosser through crowdfunding websites lit a spark that turned into a wildfire of success for the fledgling company.
You crowdfunded the finances to manufacture the ToothShower. Why did you decide to go the crowdfunding route rather than find traditional investors?
Crowdfunding was a great experience because we sold over 3,700 of our initial production order and these people became our first users. We sold in over 40 countries. The crowdfunders were understanding of the product being a first production to prove the concept. This enabled us to have the money to manufacture the first 5,000 units and have a test group. They gave us great feedback about the product, and from these suggestions and experiences, we then moved into our second production round of 5,000 units with improvements.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted ToothShower and the development of a new business?
Yes, with so many people unemployed, it is difficult to push a new product out into the market. Also, dental hygienists are our number one influencer to educate people about the need for a ToothShower. With the dental offices closed for a few months and then only reopening slowly, we lost a lot of influence into our marketing. However, we still had good interest in the product from people who wanted to keep their teeth clean during quarantine.
What are your plans for the company for the next 12 months?
We have doubled our sales so far in 2020 from what they were in 2019. We hope to continue to double over the next 12 months. It seems the best marketing tactic is “word of mouth.” So as the months go on, we should see more sales from people sharing about how much they love their ToothShower. Many people email us about how healthy their oral health has become and how amazed their dental hygienist is with their improvement in oral care. The two together should have consumers and dental hygienists talking about ToothShower! We plan to expand into other countries. Our company has patents in five different countries.
Lisa, what is a day in your life like?
I have found that there is always so much to do to create awareness for the product. As a startup, I am everything. I have many hats to wear and decisions to make. It is never ending the need to get the word out about ToothShower. I am unable to have any other job, so I do not work clinically in dental hygiene anymore. It is my passion for the product that keeps the company moving forward, so I need to devote all of my time to the startup.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am very competitive. I have been a competitive swimmer most of my life. This competitiveness keeps me challenged to succeed in everything I do. I will succeed in getting a ToothShower in every home that needs to improve their oral health. Many people need to learn that they can control the health of their mouth which in turn affects the health of their overall body.
What makes you smile?
In business, reading the great reviews about ToothShower and how people write that they love their ToothShower and have never had their mouth feel so clean. They then purchase another ToothShower for a friend or family member to share the love.
What scares you?
The amount of money needed to be spent on running a startup. You pour so much into the business with no idea about whether it will succeed or not.
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
The knowledge that gum disease can be avoided at home in your own shower. Improving people’s oral health improves their overall health and they do not have to rely on a dental professional to do this. There is a reason that dental hygienists constantly ask people to floss.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Many people will take your money and promise to improve your sales, but ultimately as a business owner you have to be smart about how you spend the small amount of money you have to get started. It needs to go a long way because great sales and business growth does not happen overnight. The success or failure of the startup depends a lot on the business owner making smart decisions. These decisions are difficult to make when you are a first-time entrepreneur. Having a strong passion for the product enables you to not give up. Creating a product from years of expertise in a given field empowers you to make wise decisions. Patience is a virtue to survive the early years of a startup.
Guenst and ToothShower have come a long way since opening their doors in 2019. Having seen sales double in 2020, there is hope sales will continue to double and the startup will grow further.
As a former dental hygienist, Guenst had an idea she turned into a business. Now, as a thriving entrepreneur, she has her heart set on spreading the word about ToothShower. It may not be long until every person that needs to improve their oral hygiene has a ToothShower in their home bathroom.
For more information on Lisa Guenst and ToothShower, please visit https://toothshower.com
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