My journey as an inventor started with a SpongeBob cartoon.
While I’m betting not a lot of invention stories start that way, most creative ideas are usually sparked by something mundane. The best inventions are usually those that solve the small, annoying problems that plague everyday life but aren’t big enough to require a team of engineers to work on.
I was confronted with just such a problem one day when I was placing a dental composite on a child. He began squirming more than usual for a child that age, and I became concerned he was in discomfort. So, I asked him. As it turns out, he wasn’t in pain; he was just trying to get a better angle on the SpongeBob cartoon playing on the TV in the treatment room.
Although we had installed televisions from arms mounted in the ceiling, they never were in a very good position. Whenever I provided dental treatment, I became a barrier between the patient and the television.
As dentists, we solve complex medical problems every day. At first glance, it may seem a TV isn’t all that important. But when used as part of overall dental care, I’ve found that having a video player in the treatment room is extremely beneficial for patients. When patients are immersed in a movie or video, they are more relaxed, less aware of the time a procedure is taking (which could lead to anxiety), and may even require less anesthetic. In fact, a 2016 study of seven- to nine-year-old patients found that by using video goggles, patents were much less anxious during procedures and more cooperative.1
The problem in my office occurred anytime I worked in a patient’s mouth. There was no way they could view the monitor. Wall-mounted monitors just didn’t work. There was no way I could work on patients in the necessary positions while giving them a clear line of sight. An alternative was ceiling-mounted monitors, but those require much more thought and special equipment. Then, too, the light would get in the way.
I decided to create my own solution, and I would encourage you to do the same when that spark of an idea hits.
Here’s my journey of how I went from idea to product, and how you can do the same.
Step 1: The idea
As I was thinking about the problem of not being able to see the screen, it came to me—the light is always in the patient’s eye. What if we could place the screen next to the light?
Step 2: The prototype
That night, I sat at my kitchen table with some PVC that I had picked up from the hardware store. It’s critical that you test out your idea as best as you can before going to any great expense.
The next day I tried out my idea, and my patients loved it.
Now I needed to find a professional prototype builder who could take my vision one step closer to reality. Lucky for me, I happened to know one. But you can also find one by Googling something like “how to find a professional prototyper,” or by visiting a website such as thomasnet.com to search for prototypers. Be sure to check whether they have experience with products like what you want designed.
Next, I tested my prototype by installing it in a treatment room. The reviews came in fast as patients enjoyed seeing an unobstructed view of their videos, and I benefited by being able to treat more relaxed patients.
Step 3: Jump in!
I perfected my design through several rounds of prototypes, ordered 1,000 of the final product, and started getting the word out. I created a website and a funny commercial, sending both out into the digital realm to see if others would like it as well as I thought they would.
If you follow a similar path with your invention, you’ll find a big challenge is the fact that this is not your primary business. All activities related to your invention have to take place while you are simultaneously running your practice, which must remain your focus. So, look for shortcuts where you can.
For example, you don’t always have to hire a developer to create your website from scratch. There are plenty of sources that can provide easy-to-build websites. A simple internet search will give you a list that will probably include Wix and Squarespace. It’s up to you to decide what features are most important to you.
Looking to film a commercial? We live in an age where most mobile phones can produce great video. But if you want something a little more polished, or if you have no experience or time to edit the video yourself, think about hiring a crew from a local college to film it for you.
As orders for your invention begin to come in, you’ll get more feedback from your customers. This will give you a chance to perfect your design even more. That’s what I did.
Step 4: Protect your product with a patent
I’m no lawyer, but I advise you to consult one, especially when it comes to registering a patent for your product. After all your hard work, you want to make sure you protect it.
Best piece of advice
You probably have a few questions at this point: What about attending trade shows? What about going on sales calls? What about schmoozing potential distributors? How do you do all that?
I went to a local trade show, but the truth is, I really don’t have time to attend those. My practice is my main source of income. When I started this journey, I received a great piece of advice: “Don’t leave the golden goose to chase rainbows.”
That has helped me remain focused over the decade since my invention came to life. Maybe someday I’ll leave my practice in pursuit of my business venture, but not yet. And until that time, my practice is my top priority.
If you have a spark of an idea or even an “I wish there was a tool that did X” moment during your day, go for it.
- Watching cartoons could help children overcome anxiety of dental treatment. ScienceDaily. August 8, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160808091253.htm