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FOSSTON — In the niche of dental retainers, Todd Sandwick is poised to make his mark.
Sandwick is a general dentist restricting his practice to orthodontics at Smile Designs in Fosston and the creator of the DeanUltraThinRetainer. The retainer, which is made from cobalt-chromium alloy, is up to 10 times thinner than the more common acrylic counterpart. “The Dean” — named after his father David Dean Sandwick — is up to 14 times stronger and non-porous, while its thinness makes it a non-issue for speech and eating, Sandwick said.
“Kids lisp (with traditional retainers), and they don’t like it, and then they take it out and they lose it, or they put them in their pocket and break them. One of the things that is really hard is to get kids to wear them,” the 1993 University of Minnesota graduate said. “I just thought, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’”
Sandwick came up with the idea for the retainer in 2012 when a friend desired a better retainer than the plastic style he used. Sandwick created the first model for him — just 0.4 millimeters thick, opposed to the acrylic version’s two millimeter size, for a dry run.
“He tried it, and he loved it. He could talk with it and eat with it in, and he thought it was fantastic,” Sandwick said. “I started making a few more, and then my wife thought I should patent the idea. We did a patent search to see if anyone had made anything like this before… (No one had), so we talked to a patent attorney down in Fargo, and he helped me with it. We got a patent about two years later.”
After the successful trial, Sandwick got his patent and teamed with Johns Dental Lab out of Terre Haute, Ind., and has slowly built momentum.
“It’s slow because people, dentists especially, get very used to doing things certain ways. There are some people who will jump on and try something new, but many of them will wait until someone else tries it and see what they think,” he said. “But slowly we’re starting to gain traction and we’re starting to see more and more.”
Sandwick’s wife, Melinda, who has also been a part of The Dean’s process, has seen that steady growth, as well.
“It’s like we’re trying to shift a paradigm,” she said. “Imagine trying to get someone to blow out a candle and turn on a lightbulb… We’re going to something way different and more high-tech. It’s a superior product, hands down, there’s no argument. It’s just a matter of getting people to see that and understand that and switch.”
Like her husband, Melinda is also confident that their patience will pay off.
“This right here, I think you’re looking at something that you can say, ‘I remember when,’ or ‘I knew that person when,’” she said. “I believe that.”
And although The Dean’s success in the dental industry has yet to gain a full head of steam, others are still taking notice. After being one of three winners of the IDEA Competition for Northern Minnesota, the inventor and his team have moved on to semifinals of the Minnesota Cup, which is the largest IDEA Competition in the country.
For Todd Sandwick, The Dean is not only a thinner and stronger retainer, but it’s also the smarter choice.
“Our hope is that we’ll see people turning away from the plastic,” he said. “The Dean is really that much better… It’s starting to catch on.”
Micah Friez is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer and is also serving as a news intern this summer. A native of East Grand Forks, he is currently studying Creative and Professional Writing at Bemidji State. Follow him on Twitter at @micahfriez for Lumberjack and Beaver updates.