When presented with a challenge, Cherie Le Penske is quick to accept it — and tackle it with passion and zest. Co-founder and chief executive officer of Armor Dental — her third startup — Le Penske hopes that her latest company and its shining product, Mouth-Mate, will help modernize the dental patient experience at home in order to improve oral hygiene, recovery, and outcomes.
Driven by a strong work ethic and compassion for others, Le Penske grew up with a strong role model — her mother, Eileen, was a highly regarded oral surgical nurse in Boston. While Le Penske’s own career path would prosper in its own right, it has led her back to the oral health setting, and she shares her excitement about this latest venture with Mentor.
What ignited your entrepreneurial spirit?
Igniting a spirit — and more importantly, maintaining it — is key to building a company. Changing my career path in my 40s was a tremendous risk, and required an inner sense of “you can accomplish what you have set out to do.” Entrepreneurs must have a deep inner spirit that believes in themselves and the journey. Who I am was greatly influenced by my mom, who has an incredible work ethic. My dad passed away when I was 12, leaving her alone with three kids. This required her to work full time at an oral surgery office, and sometimes even night shifts as a waitress. While I missed her presence a great deal, I’m forever grateful for her example of a strong work ethic.
How did your childhood experiences influence your career path?
My mom was a one-of-a-kind oral surgical assistant. She had the utmost respect from the many oral surgeons in the greater Boston area. I heard more than once oral surgeons say, “I am not starting the case until Eileen is in the room.” She worked crazy hours, tending to my sick father before his passing and three young children — rarely taking time for herself. She had no choice but to keep moving. And she did so without complaining.
I admired my mom but I also missed her presence, which is why I wanted to work in her office. I begged, and she finally hired me at age 14 to wash instruments. After many months, she allowed me to pass instruments in a room with real patients! I later became an assistant. And I owe it to the best teacher.
For a short time, my mom worked with oral surgeon Katherine Haltom, DMD, who is co-founder of Armor Dental. We have been friends since our early encounters, when I worked as her dental assistant during high school. As the years passed and milestones occurred, we always kept in touch. When I had a vision for Armor Dental’s first product, I texted Katie to ask, “Are patients still leaving with very little to help them at home?” She said yes, and asked, “What are you up to?”
In college you changed your major from biology to marketing. With Armor Dental, do you feel like you’ve come full circle?
My love for oral surgery and dentistry started at a young age and stayed with me for many years. In some ways, it never left me. I switched majors during my junior year of college, after taking a marketing class by an inspirational professor, and went on to start my own public relations/marketing firm at age 28. My firm expanded and took off, but my desire to be a surgeon never subsided. In fact, I continued to look into requirements for medical school. Ironically, I do feel like I’ve come full circle, to a degree. While I am not a dentist, I can impact the work of dentists and the lives of their patients. That beats being a dentist any day of the week.
How did you come up with the idea for Mouth-Mate?
In October 2015, my daughter Grace had a baby tooth extraction. The post-extraction brushing of her teeth was painful, as the bristles of the toothbrush made contact with the extraction site. Thanks to my dental assisting days, I understood the importance of keeping this area clean and sought out a product that allows patients to cover and protect wounds so they can brush without pain or fear. When no such product was to be found, the concept for Armor Dental’s flagship product, Mouth-Mate, was born.
What keeps you up at night?
Honestly, nothing. I sleep well knowing that I’m advocating for products that allow patients to live free of pain and worry.
From MENTOR. September 2017;8(9):42.