Area Dentist Works As Own Product Engineer

April 10, 2002
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HOLLAND — You might say that even though Pieor Policicchio, D.D.S, is childless, he is the father of a baby.

In fact, Policicchio — who goes by Dr. Pieor — jokes that the baby, which was born a year ago February, also is his wife and dog.

The baby, which he says has been an all-consuming 12-year obsession, is a device about the size and shape of an old-fashioned designer dial telephone …

… except that the handset has only a mouthpiece.

And that mouthpiece directs a high-speed jet of air, baking soda and water — or hydrogen peroxide, if you want the bleaching effect — onto one’s teeth, gums and tongue.

The purpose of the device, called Dental Air Force (DAF), is to break up the tough biofilm in which bacteria breed at what he describes as exponential rates. Dr. Pieor’s firm, Air Force Inc., began producing DAF 13 months ago.

Policicchio spent a decade developing and perfecting the device that, as far as he is concerned, is far more efficacious for the teeth than the toothbrush and dental floss together.

Likewise, he contends that it is superior to the Waterpik and any other combination of oral hygienic devices, including sonic cleaners.

He not only managed the development and financing of the device, but also has established a 3,400-square-foot assembly operation in Holland where a staff of five people is fabricating them.

But though Policicchio believes he has developed the proverbial better mousetrap, he notes that the world so far isn’t exactly beating a pathway to his door. He is selling DAF directly and through the offices of dentists who have become believers.

“But you know there are 150,000 dentists in the country,” he said, “and it takes a while to get the word out.”

Aside from that, he said, while all his colleagues certainly are interested in promoting dental health, their first concern necessarily is rectifying the problems that they find in their patients’ mouths.

“It’s the dental hygienists who really see the value in this,” he said.

He said the pattern of orders has surprised him. “I sort of had the feeling it might start in New York and Chicago and other big centers. But it’s been a total surprise to get orders from Iowa, Canada, Indiana, Kentucky and so forth.”

He said the orders seem to stem primarily from the DAF Web site, dentalairforce.com, and from professional articles about the product. A DAF costs about $400 and comes with separate mouthpieces for each family member.

The Detroit native, who has practiced dentistry in Holland for 20 years, says DAF is a consumer adaptation of a professional device, called ProphyJet, found in many dentists’ offices.

But he stressed that though DAF is not a new invention, his firm holds a dozen patents on new processes or devices that came in connection with its development. One is for DAF’s quiet compressor.

“It was easy to get the psi we needed,” he said. “The problem was eliminating the howl.”

What really blindsided him during DAF’s development, he told the Business Journal, was something with which most product development people are all too familiar.

“It was the tweaking,” he said.

“We’d get a tool or a mold and it wouldn’t be quite right, so it had to be tweaked. And the tweaking turned out to be as expensive as the original. I hadn’t expected that. You learn through your mistakes.”

Aside from tweaking, preparing DAF for the market also involved projects such as getting DAF approved both by the Food and Drug Administration and Underwriters Laboratories, to name a few.

He said the project figuratively has consumed his life to this point. “It just started as an idea,” he said, “and took on a life of its own.”

Part of the reason for that for his unwillingness to drop the project, he said, is that he also finds himself consumed with educating his patients about what’s going on inside their mouths and how to protect themselves from it.

What bothers him, he said, is that most people seem to think that conscientious flossing and brushing is all that’s needed to guarantee dental health. And while he grants that both processes are far better than oral hygiene practices of the past, he says they are not enough.

He said there are three aspects of the life of the mouth that most people don’t realize:

** First, is that the offensive odor of one’s breath in the morning results from the nighttime accumulation and multiplication of anaerobic bacteria, that is, bacteria which thrive in the absence of oxygen.

** Second, is that anaerobic bacteria are mostly pathological — harmful.

** Third, is the toughness of biofilm, also called plaque, or — to be blunt about it — the acidic bacterial excrement that protects anaerobic bacteria from oxygen.

“It’s the bacteria that cause decay and gum disease, and it’s the plaque that makes them so hard to deal with,” he explained.

“For instance, Listerine mouthwash can kill bacteria,” he said. “But it kills only those bacteria that are free-floating. It doesn’t do a thing to bacteria shielded by this sticky, water-resistant film called plaque. You have to break that up. And that’s what this product can do.”

He says DAF’s high-speed air jet — coupled with its slightly abrasive and anti-acidic mixture of water and baking soda — promotes the growth of mostly beneficial aerobic, oxygen-loving bacteria, while breaking up and neutralizing the acidic environment which harbors anaerobic bacteria.

He stresses that for all its effectiveness, DAF is not a replacement for dentists. In his view, it’s something more like an insurance policy that protects one’s teeth and gums from all but major injuries.

“And if you use it with peroxide rather than water,” he added, “it’s as good as a dental bleaching and a lot cheaper.”

   Over time, he said, he believes the wider health community will develop an interest in DAF because more and more research is beginning to implicate oral bacteria in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly called asthma, certain heart disorders disease and in oral diabetes complications.

Policicchio capitalized DAF’s development himself, but declines to discuss the details. He also declines to discuss sales figures. 

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