The Hygienist Behind Dr. John's Xylitol Candy

As Dr. John's Candies launches its xylitol product line, the hygienist/wife of "Dr. John" takes a few minutes to chat with RDH eVillage about the unusual direction of her career.

By Mark Hartley
Editor, RDH magazine

Dr. John's Candies recently introduced the ingredient of xylitol to its candies, completing a circle of sorts for the Michigan husband and wife dental team who have been serving up healthier alternatives to candy for almost 15 years.

"Dr. John" is Dr. John Bruinsma, a dentist in Grand Rapids, MI. His wife, Debra, is a former dental hygienist. The word "former" is a little misleading since she left the couple's dental practice to ensure that the flow of candy doesn't stop, becoming the manager of the business. Since 1995, Dr. John's Candies has been recognized for its sugar-free candies by a variety of organizations and news media, including a March 2008 feature on Good Morning America.

But using xylitol as an ingredient will likely endear the Michigan company even more to the dental profession. Dr. John's Candies offer a variety of candies containing xylitol. Many of the choices are lollipops, but there are peppermints, caramels, taffy, creamsicles, and nougat swirls.

"The most frequently asked question we received over the last 15 years of running a sugar-free candy company was, 'Does your candy contain xylitol?'" Dr. Bruinsma said.

Debra said the couple explored the reason xylitol seems to be added only to mints and gums. "Three years ago, we started inquiring into why manufacturers in the United States had not tried to formulate it into hard candies, specifically the sugar-free fruit lollipop, which was in our interest since it was a Dr. John's most requested candy.

"Opening up the xylitol candy selections to something other than mints and gums would give our dental colleagues a broader taste appeal for everyone, especially children who generally prefer fruit flavors over mint-flavored candies, and whose parents and teachers prefer child-friendly lollipops over gum. We saw that as better patient compliance."

In the making of candy, xylitol tends to have more of a liquid consistency than a syrupy one. The Bruinsmas also researched how much xylitol should be in a serving.

"If our formula is to be recommended by dental health professionals, we wanted the serving size and amount of servings per day to be what a normal person could incorporate into their everyday life and be effective," Debra said.

So they worked with their manufacturer on a formula, and worked through the business obstacles of launching the SimplyXylitol product line, which included keeping the candy affordable.

On top of the usual challenges, some would argue that candy is the wrong kind of sideline business for a dental hygienist to enter.

Debra said, "Gosh, let me try to count how many times I've heard, 'A hygienist that runs a candy company ... what are you trying to do, get more business?' Seriously, though, the response from dental hygienists and dentists over the years has been very supportive."

She adds, "I knew I wanted to be a dental hygienist since I was very young. I love it with my whole heart and never dreamed I'd leave clinical dental hygiene to run a sugar-free candy company! At first I missed my patients terribly and was torn about leaving what I think is one of the most important clinical positions in a dental office to start a business I really knew nothing about. However, it became very difficult to give my patients the time and energy they needed when the phone began to ring and take me away from the clinical setting."

Dr. Bruinsma encourages dental professionals to continue to research the benefits of xylitol and pass the information along to their patients. He said Dr. John's Candies provides some information at its Web site, www.drjohns.com. The company also started a "Partner in Prevention Program," where dental professionals can earn reimbursement through the promotion and subsequent sales of Dr. John's Candies.

"Why not direct professionals who believe in and recommend these products to the order source, give them a discount on their orders, and allow them to receive a percentage of the purchase?" Debra said. "The added bonus is that patients receive a discount when they use the Partner in Prevention Kit assigned code. It's easy and it's a beneficial way for hygienists to be a Dr. John's Partner in Prevention!"

For readers viewing this article during the Chicago Midwinter meeting, Dr. John's Candies is an exhibitor at the dental convention. Visit the company at booth #1447.

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