Imagine leaving the dentist after a checkup and being handed a lollipop. Sounds pretty funny, right?
Well, thanks to 9-year-old Alina Morse, lollipops are finally getting rid of their bad rap.
The Michigan girl is the founder of Zollipops, a line of sugar-free suckers designed to help improve mouth health.
Teeth start to break down when the pH level in your mouth becomes too acidic, such as after drinking soda or lemonade. Zollipops use a natural sweetener called xylitol (pronounced ZI-lit-ol) to restore the mouth’s pH — a measure of acidity — to a neutral level. This helps prevent tooth decay and cavities.
Alina came up with the idea for Zollipops after a trip to the bank with her dad. The teller offered her a lollipop, but she turned it down because her dad had taught her how bad sugar is for your teeth. “Why can’t I make a healthy sucker that’s good for your teeth and cleans your mouth?” she remembers thinking.
Curious about how they could make an effective and safe product, Alina and her father then met with dentists and hygienists to learn the science behind mouth health. They spent hours testing different ingredients and packaging before they came up with a product ready for the shelves.
“It’s good to try different things because if you only try one thing and you like it, you don’t know if you could make something better,” Alina said of that trial-and-error process.
Alina’s dad, Tom Morse, said his daughter has been producing business ideas since she was 3; she has a binder full of inventions she’s come up with over the years. Of all her ideas, Zollipops not only seemed to have the best chance of succeeding but also was something Alina felt passionate about.
“Tooth decay is the greatest epidemic for children,” she said. “Bigger than asthma and other major illnesses.” She donates 10 percent of her profits to oral health education, and she started 100,000 Smiles, which helps teach kids about preventing cavities and tooth decay. As part of the campaign, she donated 100,000 Zollipops to schools around the country.
Alina’s dad said her genuine passion for her business can help create change in the world. “It can be a company that really does make a difference, while making a profit, too,” he said.
Zollipops, which sell for $6 for a bag of 15, are available on Amazon.com and, soon, at Shoppers Food and Pharmacy stores in the Washington area. In 2014, Alina’s company had about $70,000 in sales, according to her dad.
Alina’s success has inspired her to teach kids to never give up on their dreams, especially if they can make a difference and change the way the world thinks.
“People thought suckers were just a sugary candy that kids have as a special treat once in a while,” she said. “But I completely changed suckers and made them sugar-free and all-natural and teeth-cleaning.”
She hopes her success will continue and help her win the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest, a competition for entrepreneurs. The grand prize winner, chosen partially from who gets the most online votes, will receive $25,000 to put toward growing their business.
Although she’s competing against more-experienced adults, Alina remains confident. “If you believe in yourself and your business and most importantly the people who believe in you, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
Note: Zollipops — or any other product that contains xylitol — should never be given to pets. The sweetener can make them very sick.