FAIRHOPE — Pilot. Black belt. Scuba diver.Pediatric dentist Trey Fellers has certificates on his office wall declaring him each of these things.This year, he added inventor to the list.Fellers, …
FAIRHOPE — Pilot. Black belt. Scuba diver.
Pediatric dentist Trey Fellers has certificates on his office wall declaring him each of these things.
This year, he added inventor to the list.
Fellers, whose popular Fairhope office treats patients to an indoor slide and video game hub, said he was worried about the number of toddlers who continued to keep a pacifier in their mouth, especially past age 2 when permanent damage sets in.
He knew he might not be able to convince the tots, or their parents, to give up the comforting plastic nub. So, he set to make the device less damaging.
"Counseling sometimes can go in one ear and out the other and I'm only helping people here in the office if I'm helping at all," Feller said. "I started looking at pacifiers. Instead of counseling, what can we do to reduce the negative effects?"
Fellers bought every pacifier he could find on the market. He looked at their shapes and what was happening inside the mouth during the sucking process. He made measurements and drawings. And then he worked with a patent broker in North Carolina who helped him submit his idea to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
He assumed the design would be kicked back. He couldn’t possibly be the first to tackle the problem.
The patent was granted about two years after he first dreamed up the device. He hung the certificate on his wall. He felt, he said, like Edison.
And then, the certificate sat there.
Each day he looked at it, Fellers said, he had to find a way to get the idea into the mouths of his patients.
“I had taken it that far and still was not helping anybody,” he said.
A chance conversation with a patient's mother led to a connection with Ryan & Rose, a growing baby product company in Tennessee. He emailed the family-owned business and was in talks with them within a day to produce the pacifier.
Now, Feller’s design can be purchased from the company as the Cutie Pat Smile pacifier. It features a wide nipple to prevent cross bite and Feller’s patented preformed neck that curves down and then up to prevent open bite.
Most pacifiers feature a neck that that is the same shape — straight. Feller said he believes that when children suck on a typical pacifier that shape fights against their mouth, causing it to stay open. That, Feller said, causes an open bite, where the back teeth close first, leaving a hole between the top and bottom teeth.
Feller said over an extended time, pacifier use can also cause the muscles on the side of the mouth to tighten, putting pressure on the bone and stopping the growth on the upper arch of the mouth.
And because children’s bones are more pliable, any tiny bit of pressure can cause permanent changes. In many cases, orthodontic work is often necessary to fix the damage.
While babies who ditch the pacifier by age 2 often see those issues self-correct, Fellers said he counsels patients every day who are still using it past age 4 when damage can begin to be permanent.
The addition of his pacifier might help limit that damage, even though he said he truly prefers they drop the habit completely.
“I know if they take this it will do no harm,” he said of the pacifier's new design.
Feller gives the pacifier to his patients and tracks them in an unofficial study to see the results. He said he hopes medical students will eventually use his pacifier in an official study in the coming years.
While Feller receives no royalties for the pacifier since he sold the patent to Ryan and Rose, he does appear in a video on the company's website where he explains why the pacifier works best to prevent harm.
He still is not sure how he became the first to work toward fixing a problem that has plagued generations of parents and tots.
"We have a policy on when to get rid of the paci. Pediatric dentists are trained to counsel parents about the paci. But I guess it takes someone who doesn't sleep much at night to think maybe we should do something else," Feller said.
"It's super cool to see that patent on the wall. I expected I would spend the money and be denied so this has been really neat that it was approved, and we have it out in the marketplace," he said. "I really did it to help and now I believe it will."