The number of women in dentistry who are driving change through their professional expertise, medical advances and concern for the less fortunate are uncountable.
Featured in the winter issue of Incisal Edge magazine are 10 notables whose efforts are making the dental profession—indeed, the world—a better place for all.
Meet one of these wonders: inventor, manufacturer and mom of three — Cherie Le Penske. Find out below how she raised $1 million in seed funding in just six days to establish her second company, Armor Respiration, and its breathe-giving Clara Mask to life. Then, head to IncisalEdgeMagazine.com to meet the other nine women who inspire.
Necessity is often the mother of entrepreneurship—and for Cherie Le Penske, necessity presented itself last spring in the form of a global pandemic. The longtime inventor, with five patents to her name, had already launched Armor Dental, a developer of dental tools to help patients recover from oral surgery and regain optimal oral health from home, in 2013. Last March, spurred by the widespread pandemic-driven need for quality masks, Le Penske raised $1 million in seed funding in just six days to bring her second company, Armor Respiration, to life.
Armor’s mask, the Clara (shown above), designed specifically for dentists and other medical professionals, is a hybrid of sorts of the N95 mask, a face shield and a sophisticated ventilation system.
Cherie Le Penske
“In Latin, Clara means bright, and Clara has been my guiding light. It’s been so important to be part of something life-changing that will help people breathe right and know they’re protected.”
The mask prototype took about eight weeks of steady labor by Le Penske and her team to create.
“All our businesses were dealing with the pandemic,” she recalls of last spring. “At Armor Dental, we had just made a great year in sales, 2020 was starting out great—and then all of a sudden every dental office was closed. As a leader, what do you do? As a business owner you have to dig deep.”
The answer arrived during—of course—a Zoom call in Le Penske’s home office in Hingham, Massachusetts. She and engineering consultant Lisa Fitzgerald were discussing an Armor Dental product when Le Penske caught a glimpse of something on Fitzgerald’s 3D printer.
“Lisa mentioned an idea around a better mask for her husband—who, with cancer, is at high risk. My husband, David, has a life sciences background and has been in health care for 30 years, so I pulled him into the conversation.”
In a trice, Le Penske assembled legal, regulatory and marketing teams. “I raised money within the blink of an eye, we manufactured the product, filed for the patents and around May or June started testing the breathing.” The formal product launch was set for November, just
after press time.
Clara’s patent-pending cross-ventilation system offers the wearer filtered air with every breath, allowing fresh air to pass through the clear, airtight mask, reducing both fogging and CO2 buildup. Air remains cool inside the mask, as exhaled air is not trapped within.
“When Covid hit, many dentists were open for emergencies,” Le Penske says. “They’re lowest on the totem pole to get [personal protective equipment], so we wanted to help them first. I said to my team, ‘These are my people.’
WE WANTED TO HELP DENTISTS FIRST. I SAID TO MY TEAM, ‘THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.’Cherie Le Penske
“I’ve been told by numerous clinicians that they’re not breathing well enough,” Le Penske continued. “They’re working long hours and are exhausted, hot and irritable from all the PPE.”
Clara comes in four sizes, with ratchet levers on each side for precise adjustments (and a tight seal) around the wearer’s nose and chin. The system, manufactured in Massachusetts, is naturally aspirated, requiring no battery or fan, and features HEPA filtration that will be replaceable via monthly subscription. It eliminates 99.97 percent of bacteria, viruses and particulate matter.
In addition to better breathing, Clara promotes a better chairside manner. “In our pilot [tests] with dentists, we’ve found that when [patients] see a clear mask, they can see the clarity of the physician. [The doctor] can have better empathy—you can show the patient that you’re listening with your eyes and your face.”
Le Penske’s role model throughout her career has been her late mother, a dental assistant for 40 years who also worked nights as a waitress to make ends meet for her three children after her husband passed away.
“She’s not here [anymore],” Le Penske says, “but when I invent, I want to make her proud.” She adds, “The brand is about bright new beginnings. When I think of the word Clara, I hope we bring brightness to our customers.”