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Inventor plays out the string with floss

Published Jul. 4, 1995
Updated Oct. 4, 2005

Sometimes Steve Levine's flossers failed to reach his rear teeth. Sometimes they caused the floss to break. And sometimes they didn't curve low enough into the gum line.

The ineffective flossers just didn't cut it.

"That's when the light bulb went off," said Levine, an inventor-industrial designer who holds a dozen patents. He also has a long history of periodontal disease, which sparked his interest in dental floss.

"It was time to create something new. Honestly, if I could save just one person the pain, anguish, time and money spent on trying to save my teeth, then my effort will have been worthwhile."

Levine created the "flossAwl," a simple tool that resembles a toothbrush handle pierced with two small holes, through which the floss is threaded and secured with the user's thumb. He expects his "flossAwl" to hit retail stores, priced at under $4, by mid-July in outlets such as drugstores, health food stores and anywhere toiletries are sold.

Levine isn't new to the invention scene. The flossAwl is just another inspiration for a man who has invented items as diverse as a new method to increase the efficiency of electricity generating, a novel structure for chairs and racks for bikes and wine.

"FlossAwl" hasn't arrived on the shelves yet but is already slated to receive the prestigious Gold Industrial Designers' Society of America Award in September. It is the first design change in dental flossers since the early 1900s.

The simplicity of "flossAwl" belies the effort, time and money ($150,000) it took to develop the product he conceptualized more than two years ago.

Ever the inventor who prefers the solace of his home or Manhattan office to create his ideas, Levine's is a one-man business that is a constant juggling of his creative inventive nature and his newly acquired entrepreneurial skills.

He says low overhead is the key to entrepreneurial success and, after his inventing is done, he farms out every step of the process to contractors. His assistants are New York University students and his wife.

He has a three-pronged marketing approach to reach the 10 percent of Americans nationwide who floss: bulk sales to dentists; participation in dental conventions; and catalog sales, retail packages and mail order.

He says it may or may not turn out to be a lucrative invention. But he has a well-formulated business plan that will have him inventing a wide array of dental tools.

And so what if his "flossAwl" doesn't make money. Inventing is his life.

"It's the world's most expensive hobby. You can pursue an idea, put lots of money into it, and come up with nothing," Levine said. "I have no choice. It's who I am."