- Stay tuned for my product review of Ann’s product!
Ann Arrington, RDH, BS
Mark Frias, RDH
Mark: What is the Blue Boa?
Ann: Blue Boa dental tubing is an ergonomic, flexible, hands-free product, designed to assist dental hygienists with efficient water and saliva evacuation while using an ultrasonic scaler. The tubing attaches to the HVAC (high volume suction) providing the highest suction capabilities available in dentistry. The 42” (also available in 48”) Blue Boa™ tube is lightweight and allows a hygienist to work with both hands. Using a mirror, a hygienist has excellent visual clarity as well as maximum water control while using the ultrasonic scaler. Blue Boa is ideal for saliva control during ultrasonic scaling, as well as isolation during sealant placement.
Mark: What drove you to create the Blue Boa?
Ann: My spark was ignited by frustration initially. I couldn’t successfully use my ultrasonic scaler. I felt like I needed to grow one more hand. I couldn’t hold the handpiece, the suction, and the mirror all at the same time. If I handed the patient the suction, they did not hold it where I needed it. (You would think if patients were drowning, they would put the suction farther back…but they just don’t!) If I held the suction, I couldn’t see anything. I would compromise my posture in a way that would make any Chinese acrobat proud! When I would finally pick up my mirror, I had left so much behind that I wondered why I even used the ultrasonic.
I started looking for solutions to my problem that already existed. I tried a hygoformic saliva ejector. It looks like a curly pig’s tail. It was designed to go into the low volume suction. That saliva ejector didn’t have enough power in the low volume suction, it hung heavy in the mouth (often displacing or falling on the floor), and the tubing on the low volume suction was too short and didn’t reach the far side of the mouth. Among other possible solutions to my problem, I tried a suction mirror. The one I purchased connected to the high volume suction. I liked that. I liked using it on the posterior teeth. However the tubing was heavy and it didn’t work well for me on the anterior teeth. While working on anterior teeth, all the water was collecting in the back of the mouth, while my mirror and suction were looking at the linguals of 24 and 25.
One day, I thought, “I wish I could slam the hygoformic and suction mirror ideas together…taking the best of both and leaving behind the disadvantages. That was my inspiration for designing the Blue Boa adapter.
Originally, the Blue Boa adapter only worked in conjunction with small profile saliva ejectors, like the Orsing Hygoformic, Crosstex Freeform, and Otis Formeject. One alteration that was suggested by a fellow hygienist, was to make a Blue Boa adapter that would fit a traditional ¼” saliva ejector. I was hesitant to do that. For me, personally, the ¼” saliva ejector was never “hands free”. In other words, I couldn’t put a bend on it that allowed it to sit in the mouth, unaided by me. That was my whole goal in producing the Blue Boa adapter. However, after a few hygienists requested it, I decided to accommodate that request with another Blue Boa option that would fit the standard saliva ejector. If they had a good “hands free” bend, the Blue Boa would provide a lightweight tube and high volume suction.
I had no idea when I designed the Blue Boa adapter that it would be such a beneficial tool for isolation while placing sealants. In fact, it has opened up a new avenue for marketing to pediatric dentists and other dental specialties that require isolation for their procedures.
Mark: Do you feel the hygoformic saliva ejector is an underutilized product? When I was in hygiene school (2005-2007), it wasn’t even mentioned, which sure doesn’t help.
Ann: Absolutely! It is very underutilized. The hygoformic has been around for a long time. It was never mentioned when I was in hygiene school either. I wonder if it was disregarded long ago because it didn’t function well in the low volume suction. I oftentimes have hygienists at trade shows come up to my booth and the moment they see the hygoformic, they say, “I tried that, it didn’t work.” I always agree! It didn’t work before, but it sure does now!! With the Blue Boa adapter working in conjunction with the hygoformic all the drawbacks that limited the hygoformic before are eliminated. Now the clinician has high volume suction, very light weight tubing that doesn’t displace, as well as tubing length that allows the clinician to access either side of the patient’s mouth.
Another response I get from hygienists is that they have a million of those “little things” in the drawer and don’t know what to do with them. They don’t know how to bend them or how to attach them to their suction hose. Once I show them, you see the lightbulb turn on! I love that!
Mark: The feel of the blue boa is the feature that really makes it stand out for me. It’s light and it doesn’t kink or twist in an awkward way. It’s the ideal adapter for the hygoformic saliva ejector. What is the blue boa made from that gives it that feel? How does it compare to the traditional suction tubing?
Ann: The Blue Boa is made from a FDA Class VI silicone rubber. I wanted to have something that would withstand the high heat of an autoclave. That was extremely important to me. It was difficult finding a rubber that would remain flexible without kinking. I also had to balance the amount of suction pull so that it did not suck closed either. In the end, I was able to meet my critieria of flexibility, durability, heat resistance and was pleased that the final weight was under 3 oz.
Mark: Have you ever considered creating an HVE size (11mm/7/16″) version? Having the ability to use an HVE tip without having to hold the valve or deal with the traditional HVE tubing might be nice. I think dental assistants would like it.
Ann: Yes. I have a few other suction ideas that are still “under construction”.
Mark: What was the process of bringing a dental product to the market like? Did you have any experience in this area prior to starting the blue boa project?
Ann: Originally, I started shopping for a company that could provide me with 8 tubes to take back to my office. I just wanted to fix my problem. I wasn’t trying to form a business. After going from one company to the next, I soon realized that I would have to fabricate a specialized mold to accomplish want I wanted to make. When I received the quote on the mold, I backed away from the idea. It would require an investment of several thousand dollars. But the more I thought about it, I realized that so many other hygienists were struggling with exactly my same problem. I had polled so many hygienists initially trying to find a solution. Nobody had one. That’s when I decided to move forward.
I had never ventured on this turf before…forming a company and taking a product to market. I found that I needed help with areas outside my expertise. I didn’t have any knowledge about forming corporations, licensing, patents, websites, accounting, etc. (the list is lengthy) I soon realized that I needed some outside support to help with those areas that I was lacking. I was a difficult process, but also a fun process. I learned so much as I pushed forward the best I knew how and then leaned on others around me for assistance.
Mark: How do you balance your time between your dental hygiene career and your business? Do they ever conflict?
Ann: I never realized what it required to run a business, not only financially, but emotionally and physically as well. It takes a lot of time to run a business. I thought I would dabble in it a few hours a week. That is so far from the truth!! I still work clinically one day a week for a general dentist. I don’t have many conflicts between business owner and clinician. Occasionally a dental convention/trade show will get in the way. But that has actually become a benefit to me and my employer. I am able to walk the floor of the dental show and oftentimes sit in the back of CE courses. This benefits the dentist and hygienists that I work with. I have become even more educated about products and procedures that are cutting edge than I was before. I think the two worlds of business owner and dental hygienist gel together quite well.
Mark: It’s obviously important to have a quality product to be successful, but success without effective marketing seems to be rare. How are you marketing the Blue Boa? What has worked and what hasn’t worked?
Ann: Our marketing has been focused solely on hygienists up to this point. However, we do have dentists that use the Blue Boa adapter for isolation and love it. But a dentist normally has an assistant, whereas a hygienist normally doesn’t. So in order to reach the dental hygienist we have tried numerous approaches. It is easy to connect with the ones that are highly involved in CE courses and magazines. We’ve had several speakers test out our product and love it. Now when they speak, they have incorporated our product into their presentation. That has been the very beneficial. All speakers talking about our product have tried it out themselves first hand. We’ve also had several articles written that include our product under such topics as ergonomics, ultrasonics, pediatrics, sealants, etc. I’ve found that advertisements segments in magazines do not create enough stir for the financial investment.
I’ve done several dental conventions. The drawback to a convention booth is that it is very expensive, and time consuming. It takes me away from my number one priority, my family. So although I pushed the trade shows hard in the beginning, I am actually shying away from them quite a bit. But I did find that I love to be face to face with a clinician explaining my product. When their eyes light up as you explain the product, it is very exiting!
The difficult hygienist to reach is the one who stays comfortably under the dentist’s umbrella (so to speak). They don’t attend courses, perhaps completing CE online. They don’t read their magazines. They just go to work, day to day. Content with how they learned things in hygiene school, taking home a paycheck. You would be surprised at how many hygienists fall into this category. I am still unsure how to best reach them regarding our product. They are the ones in the trenches that would benefit most from it!
My favorite marketing is “word of mouth”. It is powerful when somebody has used something and knows it works and makes their life easier. Then they start to share what is working for them with others. Those are my favorite customers and my favorite type of marketing. We often get substitute hygienists that won’t go to work without the Blue Boa. They carry it in to an office and everyone starts asking about it. It’s wonderful.
Mark: The effect of traditional marketing like magazine ads definitely seems to be diminishing. Are dentists commonly using the hygoformic saliva ejector under the rubber dam? I’m not surprised at all that many hygienists go to work just for the paycheck. In today’s economy, that’s probably not the right attitude to have to stay employed. I think the average hygienist needs to step it up and offer more to their employers and patients, and one way to do that is by embracing technology. Have you considered going into hygiene schools to demonstrate the Blue Boa? Do you offer a student discount?
Ann: I know that some dentist’s are using the Blue Boa adapter and Orsing Hygoformic saliva ejector under the rubber dam. I had one dentist report that he puts the suction only on half volume underneath the rubber dam. He said that worked famously for him. The hygoformic saliva ejector is so low profile. It really fits comfortably under a rubber dam as well as in pedo patient’s for sealants/composite isolation. Yes, we do offer educational pricing. The schools are very receptive to our product. We all remember being completely overwhelmed by suctioning alone! Then add an ultrasonic handpiece and a mirror to the mix! The students do enjoy our product and we are gaining some good momentum through the schools. Many schools are putting our product in their instrument issue, allowing each student to have a Blue Boa of their very own. I have to smile when I think of that….I had some students approach me at a convention. I had sent a sample a few months earlier to the school for the students to try out in the clinic. I guess one student was completely hoarding the Blue Boa. She would arrive early to clinic in order to put her “dibbs” on it. The other students were complaining about it to me. A few hours later, the “hoarder” actually came by the booth and bought her own. I love it when they are fighting over it!!
Mark: Ann, thank you for doing this interview. It’s always nice to hear from the person behind the product. If anyone has any further questions about the Blue Boa what is the best way for them to contact you?
Ann: The best way to contact me with further questions is by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or the website www.TheBlueBoa.com in the “contact us” tab. Also on the website, they can see a video of the Blue Boa in action and see a demo of the different ways to bend the hygoformic saliva ejector.