Crest Whitestrips Disrupts Tooth Whitening
“This is it. This is what we need”, Paul Sagel, a young chemical engineer at P&G utters in February 1997. He recalls later:” I put it on my teeth, stuck it on, and said. “That´s it!” We knew we had it instantly”. What Sagel remembers with such excitement is the eureka moment when he together with his senior colleague and mentor Bob Dirksing comes up with a novel effective solution for tooth whitening. Bob Dirksing, 56, is a 30-year company veteran and a fellow in P&G´s Victor Mills Society, an elite group of a few dozen P&G veterans who have received the membership in this honourable society as a reward for outstanding achievements in technology and innovation. Paul Sagel has joined P&G in 1993 after graduating with summa cum laude in Chemical Engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Initially he focuses on chewing gum technology, chemical technology for dentifrice, packaging and clinical imaging methods. Then, in 1996, as P&G gets more and more interested in tooth whitening and starts building a team for this opportunity, Gordon Brunner, the chief technology officer of P&G, decides that on the R&D side he wants to enlist Dirksing and Sagel. So the two begin working together on tooth whitening. Dirksing who teaches creativity classes for P&G all around the world is very happy with the new set-up: “The worst you can do during the initial part of a project is put a whole bunch of people on it”, he explains. “It´s best to take two people and turn them loose: an older person for wisdom and counsel and a younger one for energy and inspiration”. The two men conduct clinical trials and convince themselves that tooth color can indeed be changed with bleaching chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide if the teeth are exposed to the chemical long enough. P&G is very familiar with bleaches from e.g. their laundry business where whitening ingredients or bleaches have been used for decades in order to make white clothes even whiter. After solving the fundamental question about the effectiveness of bleaches on teeth, Sagel and Dirksing turn to the next issue: How can a gel containing an active ingredient such as hydrogen peroxide be applied to teeth and remain there long enough to do its work? Both researchers work for weeks on improving currently available solutions to deliver peroxide to the teeth such as the trays used by dentists. They prototype many different trays that consumers can use at home. In doing so they notice that the amount of bleaching gel to accomplish the job is actually very small. “The only thing that really matters is surface concentration of peroxide on the tooth”, Sagel explains. From this he and Dirksing conclude that they need a device to deliver a very thin layer of gel to the teeth. They continue playing around with the trays until Sagel comes up with the thought: “Bob, if we could just find a film that was even thinner – I think the tray is too thick – we´d be in a good shape.” And then in February 1997 the two men meet again at P&G´s Winton Hill Technical Center in Cincinnati where Dirksing has his office. Dirksing is an expert in “delivery devices” and one of P&G´s most successful inventors of such product applicators. During his long career he has e.g. come up with the flip-cap for Scope Mouthwash that prevents outpouring, and a spray-trigger mechanism that prevents heavy bottles from hurting users´ hands. All the delivery devices that Dirksing has collected over the years are scattered around his office.
On this crucial day in February 1997, there is a new item on Dirksing´s table that Sagel spots immediately. It is the novel Impress plastic wrap (which P&G late puts into a joint venture with Clorox for Glad Wrap) that P&G is experimenting with as a potential food wrap and that originates from film technology in P&G´s paper business. It provides a tight seal, but is still easily unrolled. Both men realize that this may be their solution....
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