A Better Mouse

Open wide — Entrepreneur Becky Logue is giving dental hygienists an extra hand

It started as Becky Logue’s quest several years ago to create a tool that would make her job more efficient. It continues today as her small business that helps people accomplish more with their computers — by using their feet.

Dental RAT and Boomer

Becky Logue is a registered dental hygienist, and she worked in dental offices for many years. In addition to cleaning patients’ teeth, she was responsible for periodontal charting — “perio charting” for short. This is a process of manually probing and then entering numbers to assess and describe the gum line around each one of a patient’s teeth.

There are several challenges related to perio charting. Perhaps the biggest is avoiding cross-contamination. Becky says that if she stopped after every tooth to type numbers on a keyboard or write numbers on a paper chart, she’d be at risk of bringing germs from those surfaces back into the patient’s mouth.

“Bacteria can live on the surface of a computer keyboard for weeks.”

Ewww.

In many offices, a hygienist will ask another employee for help in typing in or writing down the numbers as they get called out. However, this means that the other employee — perhaps a dental assistant, or a receptionist — can’t do his or her main job during that time. Becky also tried using voice recognition software to capture the numbers, but the results usually had errors.

About ten years ago, Becky was working in a dental office near Hewlett-Packard. Several of her patients were engineers. One day she mentioned to a patient that she had an idea for a foot-operated mouse that would let her enter perio charting data herself, without cross-contaminating her patients and without someone else’s help. This patient directed her to a patent lawyer.

The patent lawyer was initially skeptical. He did not think a foot-operated computer mouse was patentable. But after some research, he helped Becky submit — and receive — a patent for a foot-operated computer data entry device. (She has since had four continuation patents approved as well.)

Dental RAT in use
A hygienist can move the cursor and enter perio charting numbers with the Dental RAT.

Patent in hand, Becky got to work on her idea. From the beginning, she was adamant about producing her product locally. Working with the Boise State Technology and Entrepreneurial Center, she connected to local engineers who could help with design, and to local businesses who could create all the parts for her product.

“It’s really nice to be able to go to my engineer’s office to sit down and discuss a change I’d like to make.”

Her first product is the Dental Remote Access Terminal, or Dental R.A.T. It’s notably larger than a normal computer mouse, so the name works on multiple levels. The Dental RAT. has a heel-pad that doubles as a left-click button, four buttons for inputting numbers on perio charts, and what amounts to a small joystick for moving the cursor around the screen.

Dental RAT prototypes
The first Dental RAT was made of wood. The second, heavy aluminum. The final, production-ready version is made of lightweight, waterproof plastic.

The early version of the Dental RAT was certainly sturdy, but it was fairly large. With an aluminum shell, it weighed 13 pounds. “Floor space is critical in a dental operatory,” Becky explains, and industrial aluminum can get expensive. After the product gained some traction, Becky worked with her engineers to develop a lighter, more streamlined product that would still be durable. The current Dental RAT is made of molded plastic, has a protective rubber covering, and is wireless.

Dental hygienists fell in love the Dental RAT and use it for all kinds of computer tasks, not just perio charting. After hearing about all of the ways people use the Dental RAT, Becky was inspired to create a second foot-operated mouse without the keys for perio charting. It’s got an arc shape, with a left-click button, the cursor control, and a right-click button. It resembles a boomerang, so Becky named it Boomer.

Becky is especially excited about Boomer’s potential in the areas of adaptive and assistive technologies. She said there are many people who use computers but have trouble using a traditional mouse. Repetitive stress injuries, muscle diseases such as ALS and Parkinson’s, and other conditions can prevent people from operating a computer effectively with their hands. For people in these situations, Boomer provides a lifeline.

Boomer foot mouse

“When we were testing Boomer, I met with a woman who was writing a novel using voice-recognition software. That software is not always perfect, but Boomer allowed her to make corrections using her feet,” Becky said. Becky hopes that Boomer will allow people to use computers to keep working and to keep following their passions even if they have limited mobility.

Becky says ten years ago, she never expected that she would find herself running her own company. She had thought that if she could turn her idea for Dental RAT into a product, then perhaps a big dental-supply company would take it off her hands. As it worked out, Becky now has two products, a happy customer base, and a valuable patent that will support development of more products. If the right offer comes around, she’ll be ready.

“It’s been quite a journey. It’s been a test of faith and patience. Starting a business is not like buying a franchise, where you know what to expect. There is no map to guide you, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.”

Becky’s advice for other entrepreneurs is to surround themselves with smart people and to take the process one step at a time. “There is so much knowledge in the Boise area” from successful entrepreneurs, Becky said. And now she’s one of them, too.