Title:
Edge-stiffened sheet material probe
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An edge-stiffened sheet material probe is provided. The probe is useful for probing and cleaning of small, constricted or confined spaces. For example, the probe may be suitably used as a dental probe for cleaning interdental spaces. The probe formed from at least one fibrous web material that is cut and sealed to form an edge and terminates at a first point. In addition, the probe may be formed from or as a laminate of two or more fibrous web material layers that are cut and sealed, or may be formed from or as a laminate of the at least one sheet or material may be folded or two or more sheets may be cut and sealed to form. A pack of connected probes is also provided.



Inventors:
Fish, Jeffrey E. (Dacula, GA, US)
Yang, Kaiyuan (Cumming, GA, US)
Application Number:
11/118860
Publication Date:
11/02/2006
Filing Date:
04/29/2005
Primary Class:
International Classes:
D21F1/04
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
DOAN, ROBYN KIEU
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KIMBERLY-CLARK WORLDWIDE, INC. (Neenah, WI, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A probe for probing and cleaning spaces, the probe comprising at least a first fibrous web material comprising thermoplastic polymeric fibers, wherein the probe comprises at least one cut and sealed edge that terminates at a first point at a first end of the probe.

2. The probe of claim 1, wherein the probe terminates at a second point at a second end of the probe.

3. The probe of claim 1, wherein the at least first fibrous web material comprises a woven material or nonwoven material comprising thermoplastic fibers.

4. The probe of claim 3, wherein the thermoplastic fibers comprise a polyolefin polymer.

5. The probe of claim 3, wherein the thermoplastic fibers comprise polypropylene polymer.

6. The probe of claim 1 further comprising a second fibrous web material in face-to-face relation with the first fibrous web material, the second fibrous web material comprising thermoplastic polymeric fibers, wherein the first fibrous web material and second fibrous web material are cut and sealed together to form the sealed edge.

7. The probe of claim 1, wherein the first fibrous web material is folded in face-to-face relation with itself and cut and sealed to form the sealed edge.

8. The probe of claim 7, wherein the folded web forms an elongate tubular member.

9. The probe of claim 6, the first fibrous web material and second fibrous web material form an elongate tubular member.

10. The probe of claim 6 further comprising a second sealed edge that is substantially parallel to the first sealed edge.

11. The probe of claim 1, wherein the fibrous web material comprises a texturized surface.

12. The probe of claim 11, wherein the texturized surface is selected from the group consisting of looped bristles, crimped fibers, and point unbonded materials having a plurality of raised tufts surrounded by bonded regions.

13. The probe of claim 1, wherein the fibrous web material comprises a web material selected from the group consisting of woven materials, spunbond webs, meltblown webs, spunbond-meltblown webs, spunbond-meltblown-spunbond webs, through air bonded webs and combinations and laminates thereof.

14. The probe of claim 1 further comprising a second fibrous web material and an additional material layer, wherein the additional material layer is disposed in face-to-face relation between the first fibrous web material and the second fibrous web material.

15. The probe of claim 14 wherein the additional material layer is selected from fibrous web materials and foam materials.

16. The probe of claim 1 further comprising an additional material layer, wherein the first fibrous web material is folded upon itself to form a bilayer, with the additional material layer disposed between the folded bilayer.

17. The probe of claim 16 wherein the additional material layer disposed between the folded bilayer is selected from fibrous web materials and foam materials.

18. The probe of claim 1, further comprising at least one active substance.

19. A pack comprising a plurality of probes, the plurality of probes comprising: a first probe comprising an elongate body member that terminates at a point at one end of the body member, and at least a second probe comprising an elongate body member that terminates at a point at one end of the body member at least partially connected to the first probe.

20. The pack of claim 19, wherein the first probe and second probe comprise a first fibrous web material and a second fibrous web material that are cut and sealed to form a first long edge of the elongate body member.

21. The pack of claim 20, wherein the first probe and second probe each comprise a second long edge that is substantially parallel to the first long edge.

Description:

BACKGROUND

The present invention relates to probes useful for probing or cleaning of small or constricted space, for example dental probes such as toothpicks and other devices that are used by individuals to clean spaces between teeth and other crevices and constricted areas in a mouth.

Toothpicks are commonly used to clean spaces between teeth and other crevices and constricted dental areas around teeth. However, current toothpicks made from wood and plastics are hard and sharp and can cause damage during normal use, and especially during clumsy handling or use by the inexperienced. They can also easily be broken during use and leave fragments of the toothpick lodged in the interdental spaces or between the teeth and gums. Moreover, individuals with sensitive gums or weakened gums are at higher risk for injury. Additionally, current toothpicks can not adjust to different spacings between the teeth because they lack form-fitting properties. Furthermore, current toothpicks are generally provided as a straight shaped pick and thus not ergonomically designed, do not fit the user's hand well, and are difficult to use especially when attempting to clean between back teeth.

Teeth cleaning is regularly required to maintain dental hygiene. Various residues such as food residues and bacterial plaque films can build up on teeth and gums over a period of time, thereby adversely affecting oral health. Current toothpicks, being generally made of hard wood or plastic, do not provide an advantageously texturized or mildly abrasive surface for cleaning or polishing the interdental surfaces of the teeth.

Thus, there remains a need for probes which may be beneficially used as, for example, dental probes that are softer, gentler, better fitting between the interdental spaces, and more ergonomic and user friendly. In addition, there remains a need for probes capable of cleaning and/or polishing the surfaces of teeth that are in facing relationship with another tooth, and which also can provide an oral hygiene treatment.

SUMMARY

The present invention is generally directed to a stiffened sheet material probe that can be used to probe into and/or clean small or constricted spaces. For example, the probe may be used to beneficially probe and clean tooth and gum surfaces adjacent to interdental spaces, and to remove lodged food particles or debris from interdental spaces. A probe of the present invention is generally formed from one or more fibrous web materials having thermoplastic fibers, and the fibrous web material(s) are cut and shaped into an elongate device for probing constricted spaces such as the spaces between the teeth. The probe includes at least one cut and sealed edge that terminates at a first point at a first end of the probe. The probe may further include a second point at a second end of the probe. The at least first fibrous web material may desirably be such as a woven web material or a nonwoven web material. Suitable thermoplastic polymers for the thermoplastic fibers include polyolefins, such as polypropylene.

The probe may additionally include a second fibrous web material that is placed in a layered or face-to-face relation with the first fibrous web material, and the two fibrous web materials are cut and sealed together to form the sealed edge(s). Such a second fibrous web material also suitably includes thermoplastic polymer fibers. Alternatively, a probe may be constructed using the first fibrous web material in a folded relationship, such that the fibrous web material is folded in face-to-face relation with itself to form a bilayer, and cut and sealed to form the sealed edge(s). The probes may include an elongate tubular member; that is, the probe may have a hollow space between the two layered fibrous web materials or between the layers of a folded fibrous web material. Alternatively, the probe may include an additional material layer disposed between the layers or folds, and such an additional material layer may be such as a fibrous web material or a foam material, for example.

Any of the fibrous web materials used to construct a probe of the invention may desirably have a texturized surface, such as a texturized surface formed from looped bristles, crimped fibers, and/or point unbonded materials having a plurality of raised tufts surrounded by bonded regions. Generally, where one or more of the fibrous web materials used in the probe is a nonwoven web material, the nonwoven may be such as spunbond webs, meltblown webs, spunbond-meltblown webs, spunbond-meltblown-spunbond webs, through air bonded webs and combinations and laminates thereof. The probe may also include one or more active substances. Also provided is a pack having a plurality of probes that are at least partially connected together. Various features and aspects of the present invention are discussed in greater detail below.

DEFINITIONS

As used herein and in the claims, the term “comprising” is inclusive or open-ended and does not exclude additional unrecited elements, compositional components, or method steps. Accordingly, the term “comprising” encompasses the more restrictive terms “consisting essentially of” and “consisting of”.

As used herein the term “polymer” generally includes but is not limited to, homopolymers, copolymers, such as for example, block, graft, random and alternating copolymers, terpolymers, etc. and blends and modifications thereof. Furthermore, unless otherwise specifically limited, the term “polymer” shall include all possible geometrical configurations of the material. These configurations include, but are not limited to, isotactic, syndiotactic and random symmetries. As used herein the term “thermoplastic” or “thermoplastic polymer” refers to polymers that will soften and flow or melt when heat and/or pressure are applied, the changes being reversible.

As used herein the term “fibers” refers to both staple length fibers and substantially continuous filaments, unless otherwise indicated. As used herein the term “substantially continuous” with respect to a filament or fiber means a filament or fiber having a length much greater than its diameter, for example having a length to diameter ratio in excess of about 15,000 to 1, and desirably in excess of 50,000 to 1.

As used herein the term “monocomponent” fiber refers to a fiber formed from one or more extruders using only one polymer composition. This is not meant to exclude fibers or filaments formed from one polymeric extrudate to which small amounts of additives have been added for color, anti-static properties, lubrication, hydrophilicity, etc.

As used herein the term “multicomponent fibers” refers to fibers or filaments that have been formed from at least two component polymers, or the same polymer with different properties or additives, extruded from separate extruders but spun together to form one fiber or filament. Multicomponent fibers are also sometimes referred to as conjugate fibers or bicomponent fibers, although more than two components may be used. The polymers are arranged in substantially constantly positioned distinct zones across the cross-section of the multicomponent fibers and extend continuously along the length of the multicomponent fibers. The configuration of such a multicomponent fiber may be, for example, a concentric or eccentric sheath/core arrangement wherein one polymer is surrounded by another, or may be a side by side arrangement, an “islands-in-the-sea” arrangement, or arranged as pie-wedge shapes or as stripes on a round, oval or rectangular cross-section fiber, or other configurations. Multicomponent fibers are taught in U.S. Pat. No. 5,108,820 to Kaneko et al. and U.S. Pat. No. 5,336,552 to Strack et al. Conjugate fibers are also taught in U.S. Pat. No. 5,382,400 to Pike et al. and may be used to produced crimp in the fibers by using the differential rates of expansion and contraction of the two (or more) polymers. For two component fibers, the polymers may be present in ratios of 75/25, 50/50, 25/75 or any other desired ratios. In addition, any given component of a multicomponent fiber may desirably comprise two or more polymers as a multiconstituent blend component.

As used herein the terms “biconstituent fiber” or “multiconstituent fiber” refer to a fiber or filament formed from at least two polymers, or the same polymer with different properties or additives, extruded from the same extruder as a blend. Multiconstituent fibers do not have the polymer components arranged in substantially constantly positioned distinct zones across the cross-section of the multicomponent fibers; the polymer components may form fibrils or protofibrils that start and end at random.

As used herein the terms “nonwoven web” or “nonwoven fabric” refer to a fibrous web material having a structure of individual fibers or filaments that are interlaid, but not in an identifiable or regularly repeating manner as in textile fibrous web materials such as knitted or woven materials known in the art. Nonwoven fabrics or fibrous webs have been formed from many processes such as for example, meltblowing processes, spunbonding processes, coforming processes, airlaying processes, and carded web processes. The basis weight of nonwoven fabrics is usually expressed in grams per square meter (gsm) or ounces of material per square yard (osy) and the fiber or filament diameters useful are usually expressed in microns. (Note that to convert from osy to gsm, multiply osy by 33.91).

The terms “spunbond” or “spunbond nonwoven web” refer to a nonwoven fibrous web material of small diameter fibers or filaments that are formed by extruding molten thermoplastic polymer as fibers from a plurality of capillaries of a spinneret. The extruded fibers are cooled while being drawn by an eductive or other well known drawing mechanism. The drawn fibers are deposited or laid onto a forming surface in a generally random manner to form a loosely entangled fiber web, and then the laid fiber web is subjected to a bonding process to impart physical integrity and dimensional stability. The production of spunbond fabrics is disclosed, for example, in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,340,563 to Appel et al., 3,692,618 to Dorschner et al., and 3,802,817 to Matsuki et al., all incorporated herein by reference in their entireties. Typically, spunbond fibers or filaments have a weight-per-unit-length in excess of about 1 denier and up to about 6 denier or higher, although both finer and heavier spunbond fibers can be produced. In terms of fiber diameter, spunbond fibers often have an average diameter of larger than 7 microns, and more particularly between about 10 and about 25 microns, and up to about 30 microns or more.

As used herein the term “meltblown fibers” means fibers or microfibers formed by extruding a molten thermoplastic material through a plurality of fine, usually circular, die capillaries as molten threads or filaments or fibers into converging high velocity gas (e.g. air) streams that attenuate the fibers of molten thermoplastic material to reduce their diameter. Thereafter, the meltblown fibers are carried by the high velocity gas stream and are deposited on a collecting surface to form a web of randomly dispersed meltblown fibers. Such a process is disclosed, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 3,849,241 to Buntin. Meltblown fibers may be continuous or discontinuous, are often smaller than 10 microns in average diameter and are frequently smaller than 7 or even 5 microns in average diameter, and are generally tacky when deposited onto a collecting surface.

As used herein “multilayer laminate” means a composite material including two or more material layers. Such laminate materials generally include two or more material layers placed in face-to-face relation with each other and then bonded or secured together. The layers may be bonded together substantially continuously along the plane of their face-to-face relation, intermittently at discrete attachment sites or bond points, or merely along some desired or shaped periphery. Exemplary multilayer laminates include laminates of two or more sheets or layers of fibrous web materials whether the individual layers are of the same or of different materials, for example spunbond-spunbond laminates, spunbond-carded web laminates, or other combination nonwoven-nonwoven laminates as are known in the art, woven-woven laminates, nonwoven-woven laminates, etc. Exemplary multilayer laminates also include the spunbond-meltblown (SM) laminates and spunbond-meltblown-spunbond (SMS) laminates and others as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,041,203 to Brock et al., U.S. Pat. No. 5,169,706 to Collier, et al and U.S. Pat. No. 5,188,885 to Timmons et al. Such SM and SMS multilayer laminates may be made by sequentially depositing onto a moving forming belt first a spunbond fabric layer, then a meltblown fabric layer and, if desired, another spunbond layer and then bonding the layers together into a laminate material. Alternatively, the individual fabric layers included in a laminate material may be made individually, collected in rolls, and combined into the laminate in a separate bonding step. Such multilayer laminates usually have a basis weight of from about 0.1 to about 12 osy or more (about 3 to about 400 gsm or more), or more particularly from about 0.5 to about 3 osy (about 17 to about 100 gsm). SM and SMS laminates may also have various numbers of meltblown layers or multiple spunbond layers in many different configurations. In addition, multilayer laminates may also include other materials like films or coform materials and/or other fibrous web material layers as are known in the art.

As used herein “carded webs” refers to nonwoven webs formed by carding processes as are known to those skilled in the art and further described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 4,488,928 to Alikhan and Schmidt which is incorporated herein in its entirety by reference. Briefly, carding processes involve starting with staple fibers in a bulky batt that is combed or otherwise treated to provide a web of generally uniform basis weight. Typically, the webs are thereafter bonded by such means as through-air bonding, thermal point bonding, adhesive bonding, and the like.

As used herein “coform” or “coform web” refers to nonwoven webs formed by a process in which at least one meltblown diehead is arranged near a chute or other delivery device through which other materials are added while the web is being formed. Such other materials as may be added include staple fibers, cellulosic fibers, and/or superabsorbent materials and the like. Coform processes are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,818,464 to Lau and 4,100,324 to Anderson et al., the disclosures of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.

As used herein, an “airlaid” web is a fibrous web structure formed primarily by a process by which bundles of small fibers having typical lengths ranging from about 3 to about 50 millimeters (mm) are separated and entrained in an air supply or air stream and then deposited onto a forming screen or other foraminous forming surface, usually with the assistance of a vacuum supply, in order to form a dry-laid fiber web. Typically following deposition the web is densified and/or bonded by such means as thermal bonding or adhesive bonding. Equipment for producing air-laid webs includes the Rando-Weber air-former machine available from Rando Corporation of New York and the Dan-Web rotary screen air-former machine available from Dan-Web Forming of Risskov, Denmark. Generally the web comprises cellulosic fibers such as those from fluff pulp that have been separated from a mat of fibers, such as by a hammermilling process, and may also include other fibers such as synthetic staple fibers or binder fibers, super absorbent materials, etc. “Cellulosic” fibers can include materials having cellulose as a major constituent, typically 50 percent by weight or more cellulose or a cellulose derivative, and includes such as cotton, typical wood pulps, non-woody cellulosic fibers, cellulose acetate, cellulose triacetate, rayon, thermomechanical wood pulp, chemical wood pulp, debonded chemical wood pulp, milkweed, and bacterial cellulose.

As used herein, “thermal point bonding” involves passing a fabric or web of fibers or other sheet layer material to be bonded between a heated calender roll and an anvil roll. The calender roll is usually, though not always, patterned on its surface in some way so that the entire fabric is not bonded across its entire surface. As a result, various patterns for calender rolls have been developed for functional as well as aesthetic reasons. One example of a pattern has points and is the Hansen Pennings or “H&P” pattern with about a 30 percent bond area with about 200 bonds per square inch (about 31 bonds per square centimeter) as taught in U.S. Pat. No. 3,855,046 to Hansen and Pennings. The H&P pattern has square point or pin bonding areas wherein each pin has a side dimension of 0.038 inches (0.965 mm), a spacing of 0.070 inches (1.778 mm) between pins, and a depth of bonding of 0.023 inches (0.584 mm). The resulting pattern has a bonded area of about 29.5 percent. Another typical point bonding pattern is the expanded Hansen and Pennings or “EHP” bond pattern which produces a 15 percent bond area with a square pin having a side dimension of 0.037 inches (0.94 mm), a pin spacing of 0.097 inches (2.464 mm) and a depth of 0.039 inches (0.991 mm). Other common patterns include a high density diamond or “HDD pattern”, which comprises point bonds having about 460 pins per square inch (about 71 pins per square centimeter) for a bond area of about 15 percent to about 23 percent, a “Ramish” diamond pattern with repeating diamonds having a bond area of about 8 percent to about 14 percent and about 52 pins per square inch (about 8 pins per square centimeter) and a wire weave pattern looking as the name suggests, e.g. like a window screen. Alternatively, or in addition, useful bonding patterns may have pin elements arranged so as to leave machine direction running “lanes” or lines of unbonded or substantially unbonded regions running in the machine direction, so that the nonwoven web material has additional give or extensibility in the cross machine direction. Such bonding patterns as are described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,620,779 to Levy and McCormack, incorporated herein by reference in its entirety, may be useful, such as for example the “rib-knit” bonding pattern therein described. Typically, the percent bonding area varies from around 10 percent to around 30 percent or more of the area of the fabric or web. Another known thermal calendering bonding method is the “pattern unbonded” or “point unbonded” or “PUB” bonding as taught in U.S. Pat. No. 5,858,515 to Stokes et al., wherein continuous bonded areas define a plurality of discrete unbonded areas. Thermal bonding (point bonding or point-unbonding) imparts integrity to individual layers or webs by bonding fibers within the layer and/or for laminates of multiple layers, such thermal bonding holds the layers together to form a cohesive laminate material.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

A full and enabling disclosure of the present invention, including the best mode thereof, directed to one of ordinary skill in the art, is set forth in the specification, which makes reference to the appended drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a plan view of a probe according to one embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is another embodiment of a probe of the invention;

FIG. 3-FIG. 5 are still other embodiments of the probe of the invention;

FIG. 6 and FIG. 7 are cross sectional views of the probe shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 and FIG. 9 are cross sectional views of the probe shown in FIG. 2;

FIG. 10-FIG. 12 are cross sectional views of the probe shown in FIG. 3;

FIG. 13-FIG. 15 are cross sectional views of the probe shown in FIG. 4;

FIG. 16-FIG. 18 are cross sectional views of the probe shown in FIG. 5;

FIG. 19 and FIG. 20 illustrate packs including a plurality of probes of the invention; and

FIG. 21 is a diagrammatic cross-sectional view illustrating a cutting and sealing horn that may be used to form edge seals in the probes according to the invention.

Repeat use of reference characters in the present specification and drawings is intended to represent the same or analogous features or elements of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Reference now will be made in detail to the embodiments of the invention, one or more examples of which are set forth below. Each example is provided by way of explanation of the invention, not limitation of the invention. In fact, it will be apparent to those skilled in the art that various modifications and variations can be made in the present invention without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention. For instance, features illustrated or described as part of one embodiment, can be used in or with another embodiment to yield a still further embodiment. Thus, it is intended that the present invention covers such modifications and variations as come within the scope of the appended claims and their equivalents. Other objects, features and aspects of the present invention are disclosed in or are obvious from the following detailed description. In addition, it should be noted that any given range presented herein is intended to include any and all lesser included ranges. For example, a range of from 45-90 would also include 50-90; 45-80; 46-89 and the like. Thus, the range of 95% to 99.999% also includes, for example, the ranges of 96% to 99.1%, 96.3% to 99.7%, and 99.91% to 99.999%, etc.

The edge-stiffened sheet material probes in accordance with the present invention can be used by an individual to probe into and/or clean small or constricted spaces. As a specific example, a user may utilize the probe to remove foreign materials and plaque from in between the teeth, that is, the interdental spaces. In addition, the probe of the present invention can be used to gently clean along the gumline. In certain embodiments, probes of the present invention can include one or more texturized surfaces that can additionally be used to clean and/or polish surfaces, such as tooth surfaces and tooth and gum interfaces. Desirably, probes in accordance with the invention are portable and disposable and can be used, for example, as a dental probe for dental cleaning when a toothbrush or dental floss is not readily available for the purposes of oral hygiene.

The probes of the invention include at least one sheet of fibrous web material that has been cut and sealed or bonded to form a sealed edge. Probes of the present invention can generally be formed in a variety of ways. For instance, in one embodiment a probe can be formed from a single fibrous web material that is cut and bonded or sealed to form the sealed edge and to form the desired shape of the probe. Alternatively, a single fibrous web material may be folded upon itself in facing or face-to-face relation into a layered or laminate structure, and then cut and bonded or sealed to form the sealed edge and to form the desired shape of the probe. As still another alternative, a probe can be formed from two or more layers or sheets of fibrous web materials that are layered together in face-to-face relation into a laminate structure and then cut and bonded or sealed to form the sealed edge and to form the desired shape of the probe.

As stated, the edge-stiffened sheet material probes are made from at least one fibrous web material, such as woven or knitted textile materials, or nonwoven fibrous web materials. However, because of their relative inexpense, nonwoven web materials may be particularly suitable for probe applications where the probe is intended to be a limited or single-use disposable device. Such nonwoven fibrous web materials, for instance, include be meltblown webs, spunbond webs, carded webs, airlaid and coform webs, and so forth. The webs can be made from or include various fibers, such as synthetic or natural fibers. For example, suitable fibers could include meltspun and/or cut staple length monocomponent fibers, multicomponent fibers, multiconsitutent fibers, and so forth. In addition, fibers used in making the fibrous web material(s) to be used in the probe may have any suitable morphology and may include hollow or solid fibers, be substantially circular in cross section or have various non-circular cross sectional shapes, be straight or crimped fibers, and/or be blends or mixtures of such fibers and/or filaments, as are well known in the art.

Generally, in order to effect the sealed edge, the fibrous web materials used to manufacture the probes of the present invention will include synthetic fibers, and more particularly should include fibers including thermoplastic polymers. Exemplary polymers known to be generally suitable in the making of fibrous web materials such as woven or knitted textile materials, and nonwoven materials such as spunbond, meltblown, coform, airlaid and carded webs and the like, include for example polyolefins, polyesters, polyamides, polycarbonates and copolymers and blends thereof. It should be noted that the polymer or polymers selected may desirably contain other additives such as processing aids or treatment compositions to impart desired properties to the fibers, residual amounts of solvents, pigments or colorants and the like.

Suitable polyolefins include polyethylene, e.g., high density polyethylene, medium density polyethylene, low density polyethylene and linear low density polyethylene; polypropylene, e.g., isotactic polypropylene, syndiotactic polypropylene, blends of isotactic polypropylene and atactic polypropylene; polybutylene, e.g., poly(1-butene) and poly(2-butene); polypentene, e.g., poly(1-pentene) and poly(2-pentene); poly(3-methyl-1-pentene); poly(4-methyl-1-pentene); and copolymers and blends thereof. Suitable copolymers include random and block copolymers prepared from two or more different unsaturated olefin monomers, such as ethylene/propylene and ethylene/butylene copolymers. Suitable polyamides include nylon 6, nylon 6/6, nylon 4/6, nylon 11, nylon 12, nylon 6/10, nylon 6/12, nylon 12/12, copolymers of caprolactam and alkylene oxide diamine, and the like, as well as blends and copolymers thereof. Suitable polyesters include poly(lactide) and poly(lactic acid) polymers as well as polyethylene terephthalate, polybutylene terephthalate, polytetramethylene terephthalate, polycyclohexylene-1,4-dimethylene terephthalate, and isophthalate copolymers thereof, as well as blends thereof.

In addition, many elastomeric polymers are known to be suitable for forming fibers and fibrous web materials that exhibit properties of stretch and recovery. Thermoplastic polymer compositions may desirably comprise any elastic polymer or polymers known to be suitable elastomeric fiber or film forming resins including, for example, elastic polyesters, elastic polyurethanes, elastic polyamides, elastic co-polymers of ethylene and at least one vinyl monomer, block copolymers, and elastic polyolefins. Examples of elastic block copolymers include those having the general formula A-B-A′ or A-B, where A and A′ are each a thermoplastic polymer endblock that contains a styrenic moiety such as a poly (vinyl arene) and where B is an elastomeric polymer midblock such as a conjugated diene or a lower alkene polymer such as for example polystyrene-poly(ethylene-butylene)-polystyrene block copolymers. Also included are polymers composed of an A-B-A-B tetrablock copolymer, as discussed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,332,613 to Taylor et al. An example of such a tetrablock copolymer is a styrene-poly(ethylene-propylene)-styrene-poly(ethylene-propylene) or SEPSEP block copolymer. These A-B-A′ and A-B-A-B copolymers are available in several different formulations from Kraton Polymers U.S., L.L.C. of Houston, Tex. under the trade designation KRATON®. Other commercially available block copolymers include the SEPS or styrene-poly(ethylene-propylene)-styrene elastic copolymer available from Kuraray Company, Ltd. of Okayama, Japan, under the trade name SEPTON®.

Examples of elastic polyolefins include ultra-low density elastic polypropylenes and polyethylenes, such as those produced by “single-site” or “metallocene” catalysis methods. Such polymers are commercially available from the Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Mich. under the trade name ENGAGE®, and described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,278,272 and 5,272,236 to Lai et al. entitled “Elastic Substantially Linear Olefin Polymers”. Also useful are certain elastomeric polypropylenes such as are described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 5,539,056 to Yang et al. and U.S. Pat. No. 5,596,052 to Resconi et al., incorporated herein by reference in their entireties, and polyethylenes such as AFFINITY® EG 8200 from Dow Chemical of Midland, Mich. as well as EXACT® 4049, 4011 and 4041 from the ExxonMobil Chemical Company of Houston, Tex., as well as blends. Still other elastomeric polymers are available, such as the elastic polyolefin resins available under the trade name VISTAMAXX from the ExxonMobil Chemical Company, Houston, Tex., and the polyolefin (propylene-ethylene copolymer) elastic resins available under the trade name VERSIFY from Dow Chemical, Midlands, Mich.

The fibers used in the fibrous web material(s) of the present invention can also be such as the curled or crimped mentioned above. Curled or crimped fibers may desirably create higher levels of fiber entanglement and may create more void volume within a fibrous web, and/or and increase the amount or number of fibers that are oriented in the z-direction (direction perpendicular to the length and width plane of the fibrous web material). Fibers may suitably be curled or crimped, for instance, by adding a chemical agent to the fibers or by subjecting fibers to a mechanical crimping process, or, for example, by methods utilizing differential rates of expansion and contraction in multicomponent fibers as is taught in U.S. Pat. No. 5,382,400 to Pike et al.

It may also be desirable to provide as the fibrous web(s), materials that are composite materials including fibers having higher levels of liquid absorbency than that provided by many conventional thermoplastic synthetic fibers. For example, coform and airlaid composite webs as are known in the art may include synthetic thermoplastic fibers and additional or secondary fibers such as cellulosic or pulp fibers. As examples, pulp fibers such as soft wood fibers such as northern softwood kraft fibers, redwood fibers, and pine fibers may be included, and hardwood pulp fibers, such as eucalyptus fibers, can also be utilized in the present invention. Other cellulosic fibers are known to one skilled in the art and may be utilized. However, it should be noted that the efficiency of the cutting and edge-sealing process may be decreased as the percentage of thermoplastic fibers in a given fibrous web material to be cut and sealed decreases. Therefore, where a fibrous web material including non-thermoplastic fibers is desired, the web should desirably contain less than about 50 percent by weight of the non-thermoplastic fibers, more desirably, less than about 30 percent of the non-thermoplastic fibers, and still more desirably 10 percent (or less) by weight of the non-thermoplastic fibers.

As mentioned above, nonwoven fibrous web materials are highly suitable for constructing the probes of the invention. Such nonwoven webs may be bonded or otherwise consolidated in order to improve the strength of the web by various methods including adhesive bonding and thermally point bonding the fibrous webs as mentioned above. In addition, or alternatively, fibrous web materials may be bonded by point unbonded or pattern unbonded thermal bonding. As used herein “pattern unbonded” or interchangeably “point unbonded” or “PUB”, means a bonding pattern for a fibrous web material having continuous bonded areas defining a plurality of discrete unbonded areas, such as is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,858,515 to Stokes et al., incorporated herein by reference in its entirety. The fibers within the discrete unbonded areas are dimensionally stabilized by the continuous bonded areas that encircle or surround each unbonded area, such that no support or backing layer of film or adhesive is required. The unbonded areas are specifically designed to afford spaces between fibers within the unbonded areas. A suitable process for forming a pattern-unbonded fibrous material includes providing a fibrous fabric or web, providing opposedly positioned first and second calender rolls and defining a nip there between, with at least one of the rolls being heated and having a bonding pattern on its outermost surface comprising a continuous pattern of land areas defining a plurality of discrete openings, apertures or holes, and passing the fibrous fabric or web within the nip formed by the rolls. Each of the openings in the roll or rolls defined by the continuous land areas forms a discrete unbonded area in at least one surface of the fabric or web in which the fibers of the web are substantially or completely unbonded. Stated alternatively, the continuous pattern of land areas in the roll or rolls forms a continuous pattern of bonded areas that define a plurality of discrete unbonded areas on at least one surface of the fibrous fabric or web. Alternative embodiments of the aforesaid process includes pre-bonding the fibrous fabric or web before passing the fabric or web within the nip formed by the calender rolls, or providing multiple fibrous webs to form an integrally bonded pattern-unbonded laminate.

The fibrous web material(s) constructed for use in probes of the present invention may desirably include a texturized surface where the probe may contact a user's teeth or gums. The texturized surface can facilitate removal of residue, such as plaque, and film from the teeth and/or gums. The texturized surface may be provided on the probes only where the probe is to contact the teeth and gums or can completely cover the exterior surface of the probe. The manner in which a texturized surface is formed on a nonwoven web for use in the present invention can vary depending upon the particular application of the desired result. As one example, the point-unbonded bonding pattern describe above may be used for the fibrous web material, thereby providing to the fibrous web material a texturized surface in the from of raised “tufts” (the unbonded areas encircled by the continuous bonded area). Such a tufted fibrous web material may be used to provide a probe having a texturized surface for improved surfaces cleaning. Other examples of texturized surfaces include for instance, bristles and loop structures such as the loops used in hook and loop attachment structures, and so forth.

It is believed that the thermally point unbonded texturized or mildly abrasive surfaces provide various advantages and benefits when used in probing into small or confided spaces, such as use for or as a dental probe or toothpick. In certain embodiments, such point unbonded materials may be defined by having semi-rigid protuberances of a certain height, particularly having a height of about 0.5 millimeters or greater. More particularly, the height of the tufts may desirably be from about 0.5 millimeters to about 5 millimeters, and still more particularly, the height of the tufts may desirably be from about 0.5 millimeters to about 3 millimeters. In exemplary embodiments, such tufts or texturized areas can have a substantially circular shape. It should be understood, however, that such tufts or texturized areas can have any suitable shape including, but not limited to, square, triangular, toroidal (i.e. the shape of a doughnut), and so forth. An exemplary method of making point unbonded materials is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,647,549 to McDevitt, et al. which is incorporated herein by reference. Moreover, although not specifically shown, a probe of the present invention can include bristles on one or more of the exterior surfaces. For example, bristles such as are described in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,617,694 to Bori or 5,287,584 to Skinner, which are incorporated herein by reference, can be provided on a surface of the fibrous web material or fabric that is used to form the probe. In addition to thermal bonding, ultrasonic bonding methods can be used to produce a point unbonded material.

In addition to the aforementioned point unbonded materials, there are many other methods for creating texturized surfaces on fibrous web material surfaces and many other texturized materials can be utilized. Examples of known texturized materials include rush transfer materials, flocked materials, wireform nonwovens, and so forth. Moreover, through-air bonded fibers, such as through-air bonded multicomponent nonwoven webs, can be incorporated into and/or onto a fibrous web material to provide texture to the exterior surface of the probe. Textured webs having projections from about 0.5 mm to about 5 mm or in the desirable above-mentioned range of dimensions, such as pinform meltblown or wireform meltblown may also be suitably utilized in fibrous web material used in the probe of the present invention.

As stated above, the probes in accordance with the present invention include at least one fibrous web material. Additionally, laminate materials of the fibrous web material with a film material may be incorporated or used to construct a probe in accordance with the present invention. When incorporated into a laminate, the laminate can include various fibrous web materials, such as nonwoven webs, in combination with a film layer, and may be such as the multilayer laminate materials hereinabove described.

In general, a probe of the present invention can be used for probing into and/or cleaning of tight or constricted small spaces. Because the probes of the invention provide, on the one hand, a stiffened or rigid member having resistance to bending and folding, the probes are capable of being pushed into small spaces (i.e. probing) without undue collapse. On the other hand and at the same time, the probes proved a relatively softer, more flexible surface portion in the form of the non-sealed or non-edge surface portion of the fibrous web material, and the inventive probes are therefore particularly useful for probing or cleaning work requiring a gentle touch, such as interdental probes that may be used to remove plaque, food particles or other foreign objects from interdental spaces and/or from along the gumlines (i.e., the tooth-gum interface line). In addition, the probes may be used to provide or deliver an oral hygiene treatment or other beneficial treatment to the teeth and/or gums while cleaning interdental spaces.

Referring now to the Figures, one embodiment of a probe of the present invention is depicted in FIG. 1, FIG. 6 and FIG. 7. FIG. 1 illustrates a side view of a probe 10, while FIG. 6 illustrates a cut-away or cross-sectional view of probe 10 taken along line 6-6 and FIG. 7 illustrates a cut-away or cross-sectional view of probe 10 taken along line 7-7. As illustrated in FIG. 1, the probe 10 is formed as a unitary structure from a first fibrous web material 12 which may desirably be the texturized point unbonded nonwoven fabric illustrated in FIG. 1 that includes a plurality of, in this instance, substantially circular unbonded areas 13 surrounded by the continuous bonded area 14. To form the probe 10 the first fibrous web material 12 and a second fibrous web material 15 (not visible in FIG. 1), which may also desirably be a point unbonded nonwoven fabric, are placed in a layered or laminate face-to-face relation so that the texturized surfaces of the point unbonded nonwoven fabrics face outward or externally. The sheets of fibrous web material are then simultaneously cut and sealed to form a two layer laminate in the shape illustrated in FIG. 1. It should be noted that it is also possible to form a probe of the invention using a single, thicker fibrous web material instead of using two or more fibrous web materials in layered or laminate form.

The shape illustrated in FIG. 1 can be generally described as an elongate (i.e., generally having a narrow width in relation to length) body member 11 that tapers to terminate at the first pointed end 16. The elongate body member 11 also tapers to terminate at the second pointed end 17. It should be noted that although it is not required for the elongate body member 11 to terminate at more than one pointed end, having multiple pointed ends may be desirable to provide a probe having additional utility and/or additional cleaning capacity. In addition, although the probe in the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1 has tapered ends that curve before the probe terminates at ends 16 and 17, it is not required that the probe body include such curves and the probe may instead be shaped substantially straight, e.g. like a conventional toothpick, or may have one end curved and one end straight (i.e., tapered to a pointed end but substantially along a line parallel to the axis of elongate body member 11). As still another alternative, the probe may be shaped with one curved end curving downward such as end 16 shown in FIG. 1, and with another curved end, that, instead of pointing downward as end 17 in FIG. 1, points upward instead. As can be seen in the cross sectional views in FIG. 6 and FIG. 7, the probe 10 is generally larger or wider (FIG. 6) along the central portion of the elongate body member 11, and generally smaller (narrower) as shown in FIG. 7 toward the tapered and/or curved ends of the probe 10. In addition, in FIGS. 6 and 7 it can be seen that, for this embodiment of the probe of the invention, a hollow space exists between the two fibrous web materials, such that the two fibrous web materials once sealed together form an elongate tubular member.

As mentioned, the probes of the invention have at least one cut and sealed edge. The probe 10 in FIG. 1 includes a sealed edge 18 and a sealed edge 19 which, as shown, is on the opposite side of the probe 10. As depicted in FIG. 1, the sealed edges are approximately parallel to each other along the length of probe 10, except to the extent that the two sealed edges converge toward one another at the two pointed ends 16 and 17.

The process which cuts the shape of the probe from the fibrous web material(s) and forms the sealed edge may be performed by various known techniques, particularly by heat or thermal cutting/sealing with a heated die, and by ultrasonic cutting and bonding/sealing methods. Ultrasonic bonding methods are known in the art and may be performed, for example, by passing the fabric between a sonic horn emitting ultrasonic energy and an anvil rolls. Such processes are described, for example, in U.S. Pat. No. 4,374,888 to Bornslaeger. In a particularly desirable process, the sealed edge may be formed by an ultrasonic cut-and-seal process utilizing an ultrasonic bonding apparatus wherein a probe-shaped pattern is cut from the fibrous web material sheet(s) and the edge of the cut area is simultaneously sealed while the shape is cut, all in a single processing step. The shape of the edge seam along the sealed edge(s), that is, the width and thickness of the sealed edge, is controlled by defining the dimensions of the bonding horn and/or bonding anvil which form the ultrasonic cutting and sealing die.

Turning briefly to FIG. 21, there is illustrated in a cross-sectional view an exemplary configuration for an ultrasonic bonding or welding horn for an ultrasonic die that is designed to be capable of producing a simultaneous cut and sealed edge in the fibrous web material(s) used in the construction of the probes of the invention. In FIG. 21, the horn is configured to include a flat (horizontal) cross-section cutting section 210 and a tapered or angled welding or sealing section 220. In use, when the horn is applied to or lowered down onto the material to be cut and sealed, the horn will be vibrating at a selected ultrasonic frequency (for example, 20,000 cycles per second). The vibrations transmit energy to the fibrous web material as the energy passes into and through the web, which induces localized heating and essentially melts the thermoplastic fibers and/or fuses them together. The flat cutting section 210 will press through or nearly all the way through the fibrous web material, to at least partially contact an anvil section (not shown) of the ultrasonic apparatus. The flat cutting section will generally be fairly small, e.g. from about 0.1 to about 0.2 millimeters wide, although it may be smaller or larger upon need.

The angled sealing section 220 which is shown in FIG. 21 to have an angle of about 45 degrees, will also transmit energy and induce heating in the fibrous web material and thereby cause fusing or melting of the fibers, but without passing completely through the section or portion of the fibrous web material it contacts. Therefore, the sealed edge of the probe thus produced will represent a mirror image of the horn geometry. That is to say, the sealed edge will have a generally triangular-shaped cross section having its thickest portion near the body of the probe, which corresponds to the portion of the sealed edge made while in contact with the sealing section 220 at or near the point labeled “A” in FIG. 21. The sealed edge of a probe thus produced will then thin gradually or taper in a direction moving outwardly away from the body of the probe, with the thinnest portion of the sealed edge corresponding to the portion of the sealed edge made while in contact with cutting section 210 at or near the point labeled “B” in FIG. 21.

One will recognize that the ultrasonic die horn depicted in FIG. 21 is essentially symmetric, having similarly configured cutting sections and welding sections on both sides of the horn, which would be expected to produce similarly symmetrically configured cut and sealed edge(s) on the probe it produces. However, the horn may alternatively be configured non-symmetrically, for example where it is desired to produce a probe with (for example) a thicker, or a longer, or otherwise characteristically different sealed edge on one side of the probe than the sealed edge on the other side of the probe body. In addition, where a probe having only a single cut and sealed edge is desired, an ultrasonic horn used to cut and seal those probes would have only a single cutting section/single welding section. It will also be recognized that the geometric configuration of the size or width dimension of the flat cutting section may vary, and the size and/or angle of the welding or sealing section may vary from that shown, and still further that various suitable combinations may be readily determined through routine experimentation. Generally, the properties of the sealed edge may be controlled by the following factors: horn geometry, anvil geometry, horn down speed (rate at which the horn is brought into contact with and pressed through the fibrous web material(s)), horn pressure, and the amplitude and/or frequency of ultrasonic energy, and the scrub time as is known to those of skill in the art. As still yet another alternative, the fibrous web materials may be cut and sealed to produce the probes by using a flat horn which is brought down onto a patterned anvil surface.

The dimensions of the sealed edge(s) will generally be less than about 1 millimeter in width and less than about 1 millimeter thick at its thickest part. In some embodiments, the sealed edge(s) may be less than about 0.5 millimeter in width and less than about 0.5 millimeter thick at the thickest part. In some further embodiments, the sealed edge(s) may be less than about 0.4 millimeter in width and less than about 0.4 millimeter thick at the thickest part. In still further embodiments, the sealed edge dimensions (either/or or both of the thickness and width) may be less than about 0.3 millimeter, or less than about 0.2 millimeter, or less than about 0.1 millimeter, and so forth. In addition, it should be noted that these two dimensions do not have to be symmetric as discussed above with respect to horn geometry. For example, all of the dimension ranges stated above are independent, and it is possible to produce probes having sealed edge(s) that are of narrow width but, relative to the sealed edge width, quite thick, and vice versa. As a specific example of the foregoing, a probe may have a sealed edge that is about 0.5 millimeters thick at its thickest part and about 0.3 millimeters wide.

The dimensions of probe itself will depend upon the particular application and purpose for which the probe is to be used. For instance, the probe can be designed to fit into rather smaller, or rather larger spaces. For typical applications, the probe may have a length ranging from about 0.5 inches to about 3 inches (about 13 millimeters to about 76 millimeters), although of course larger and smaller probes may be constructed and are envisioned. Also, for typical applications, the probe may have a median flattened width that ranges from about 0.05 inches to about 0.5 inches (about 1 millimeter to about 13 millimeters), and more particularly, a median flattened width from about 0.05 inches to about 0.25 inches (about 1 millimeter to about 6 millimeters), although again, both narrower and wider probes may be constructed and are envisioned.

The probes in accordance with the present invention can also be made from more than two layers of fibrous web material. Returning again to the Figures, another exemplary probe 20 is shown in FIG. 2, FIG. 8 and FIG. 9. FIG. 1 illustrates a side view of a probe 20, while FIG. 8 illustrates a cut-away or cross-sectional view of probe 20 taken along line 8-8, and FIG. 9 illustrates a cut-away or cross-sectional view of probe 20 taken along line 9-9. The probe 20 is externally similar to probe 10 illustrated in FIG. 1, except as illustrated in FIG. 2 probe 20 has an elongate body member 21 which is wider than the relatively narrow elongate body member 11 of probe 10. In addition, probe 20 further includes a third material 26 as an additional material layer that is sandwiched or layered between the two fibrous web materials 22 and 24 that make up the external surfaces of probe 20. The third or additional material layer 26 acts as a “core” material for the probe 20 and may provide additional rigidity or stiffness to the probe 20. In addition, the third material 26 may act to provide resiliency or resistance to opposing crushing forces which may be applied to the sides of the probe 20 when gripped by a user during normal use. For example, the additional or third material layer 26 may desirably be a foam material, such as a resilient open or closed cell foam material as is known in the art. Alternatively, the third material 26 may be another fibrous web material or fibrous web laminate material as described above, or may be a film layer, etc.

In addition to the above-mentioned probes having two sealed edges that are substantially parallel to each other, probes may be constructed having sealed edges that are perpendicular to each other, or at other angles with respect to each other. FIG. 3 and its associated cross-section figures FIGS. 10-12, and FIG. 4 and its associated cross-section figures FIGS. 13-15, demonstrate such probes having sealed edges that are not substantially parallel. The probe 30 shown in side view in FIG. 3 includes an elongate body member 31, although unlike those described with respect to FIGS. 1 and 2, body member 31 generally tapers continuously toward the first pointed end 35 of the probe 30. Probe 30 is made from one fibrous web material 32 that is folded onto itself to form, in effect, a bilayer or two-layer laminate structure that is cut and sealed to form sealed edge 33. A second sealed edge 34 is formed in the probe 30 by rotating the sealed edge 33 to lie along the uppermost surface of the rotated probe 30, and applying the second cut/seal producing second sealed edge 34 that is (as depicted here) essentially perpendicular to sealed edge 33. As can be seen in the cross-section figures FIG. 10 (taken along lines 10-10), FIG. 11 (taken along lines 11-11), and FIG. 12 (taken along lines 12-12), placing the two sealed edges in the probe at angles with respect to each other produces a probe having an enhanced three-dimensional shape.

Turning now to FIG. 4 and its associated cross-section figures FIGS. 13-15, the probe 40 shown in side view in FIG. 4 includes an elongate body member 41 that generally tapers continuously toward the first pointed end 45 of the probe 40, similar to probe 30 in FIG. 3. However, probe 40 is made from two fibrous web materials, first fibrous web material 42 and second fibrous web material 46. The two fibrous web materials are cut and sealed along two separate lines to form two sealed edges 43 and 47 (edge 47 is not visible in FIG. 4). Then, a third sealed edge 44 is formed in the probe 40 by rotating the probe 40 so that sealed edge 43 lies along the uppermost surface of the as-rotated probe 40, and sealed edge 47 lies along the lower surface of the as-rotated probe 40, and applying the third cut/seal producing third sealed edge 44 that is (as depicted here in FIG. 4) essentially perpendicular to both the first sealed edge 43 and the second sealed edge 47. As can be seen in the cross-section figures FIGS. 13-15 (taken respectively along lines 13-13, 14-14 and 15-15), probe 40 also exhibits an enhanced three-dimensional shape.

Turning now to FIG. 5, there is illustrated a probe 50 terminating in or having a single pointed end 51 at one end of its elongate body member 52 and having a single sealed edge 53. Probe 50 is made from a single fibrous web material sheet 54 which has been folded upon itself in a bilayer or laminate type configuration as mentioned above, before being cut and sealed. FIG. 5 is also illustrative of the above-mentioned alternative possible widths for sealed edges, with sealed edge 53 having a width “W” that is wider than those depicted in the embodiments and figures above. Various cross sectional views of the probe 50 are shown in FIGS. 16-18, and these are taken as shown in FIG. 5 at cut lines 16-16, 17-17 and 18-18, respectively.

The basis weight of the probes of the invention may vary widely and may be selected based on the functional requirements foreseen for a given application. Generally speaking, the basis weight of the probes of the invention may suitably be from about 34 gsm or less up to about 400 gsm or even more, and more particularly may have a basis weight from about 70 gsm to about 300 gsm, and still more particularly, from about 70 gsm to about 200 gsm. Other examples are of course possible, and the desired basis weight of the probes will depend on a number of factors including the amount and type of probing and cleaning envisioned, as well as the number and composition of individual layers of fibrous web material(s) and/or other core materials utilized in the construction of a particular embodiment of the probe.

In another particular embodiment, multiple probes may be cut and sealed from the fibrous web material(s) but where a portion of the fibrous web material remains uncut, so that adjacent or neighboring probes are at least partially connected together. In this way, a pack of a plurality of probes may be provided as “sheet” of probes. The individual probes in the pack of probes may be dispensed from the sheet by application of manual pressure to “pop” or break an individual probe free of its neighbors by breaking that portion of the fibrous web material(s) that remain uncut and connecting neighboring probes. In addition, the provision of such multi-probe packs allows for efficient utilization of the fibrous web material(s) used in producing the probes, by “nesting” the probes together. Exemplary embodiments of such packs of probes are illustrated in FIGS. 19 and 20. In FIG. 19 is shown a pack 100 comprising a plurality of individual probes 110 on the sheet 120. As illustrated in FIG. 19, the individual probes 110 are all of similar size in shape. However, it is not required that the probes provided in such a pack all be similar. As an example, in FIG. 20 is shown a pack 160 comprising a plurality of probes on the sheet 170. As illustrated in FIG. 20, the individual probes (for example, the probes 172, 174, 176 and 178) may desirably have different sizes and shapes.

In certain desirable embodiments, the probe of the present invention may further include one or more optional active substances including, but not limited to, dentrifices, fluoride compounds, anti-caries agents, oral anesthetics, antimicrobial compounds, antibacterial or bacteria inhibiting compounds, medications, astringents, polishing agents, flavorings and so forth in order to provide additional benefits such as cavity prevention, pleasant flavor, breath freshening and so forth. Such active substances may be added topically to one or more of the probe surfaces after the probe is constructed. Alternatively, or in addition, such an active substance may be added topically to a fibrous web material prior to probe construction, and/or may be included in the raw materials (fibers or polymer melt) used in a fibrous web material. As a specific example, certain additives such as a mint flavoring are suggested when the probe is used as an oral cleaning device so that the probe leaves the user with a clean and fresh “minty” feeling after use. In one embodiment, cationic substances such as cationic polymers can be included in or coated onto the probe. Cationic polymers can help clean teeth and/or gums due to electrostatic attraction for negatively charged bacteria and deleterious acidic byproducts that accumulate in plaque. One example of a cationic polymer that is suitable for use in the present invention is chitosan (poly-N-acetylglucosamine, a derivative of chitin) or chitosan salts. Chitosan and its salts are natural biopolymers that can have both hemostatic and bacteriostatic properties. As a result, chitosan can help reduce bleeding, reduce plaque, and reduce gingivitis. In addition to chitosan and chitosan salts, other cationic polymers known in the art can generally be applied to a probe of the present invention. For example, in one embodiment, cationic starches may be used in the present invention. One such suitable cationic starch is, for example, COBOND, which can be obtained from National Starch, Indianapolis, Ind. In another embodiment, cationic materials that are oligomeric compounds can be used. In some embodiments, combinations of cationic materials can be utilized.

In addition to the additives mentioned above, a variety of other active substances or additives can be included in or applied to a probe of the present invention. For instance, other well known dental agents can be utilized. Examples of such dental agents include, but are not limited to, alginates, soluble calcium salts, phosphates, fluorides, such as sodium fluoride (NaF) or stannous fluoride (SnF2), and so forth. Moreover, mint oils and mint oil mixtures can be applied to a probe of the present invention. For instance, in one embodiment, peppermint oil can be applied to the probe. Moreover, in another embodiment, a mint oil/ethanol mixture can be applied. Components of mint oil (e.g., menthol, carvone) can also be used. Additionally, various whitening agents can be applied to the probe. Examples of whitening agents include peroxides and in situ sources of peroxide, such as carbamide peroxide. Polishing agents such as sodium bicarbonate particles can be included on the surface of the probe to provide the additional feature of polishing and/or odor absorbing.

Furthermore, in some embodiments, the probe can also include an anti-ulcer component as an active substance. In particular, one embodiment of the present invention can comprise a component designed to act as an anti-Helicobacter pylori (“H. pylori”) agent. In general, any additive known in the art to be an anti-ulcer or anti-H. pylori agent can be used in the present invention. In one embodiment, for example, bismuth salts can be utilized. One particularly effective bismuth salt, bismuth subcitrate, is described in more detail in U.S. Pat. No. 5,834,002 to Athanikar, which is incorporated herein in its entirety by reference thereto. Another example of a suitable bismuth salt is bismuth subsalicylate. In addition to bismuth salts, other examples of suitable anti-ulcer additives include, but are not limited to, tetracycline, erythromycin, clarithromycin or other antibiotics. Furthermore, any additive useful for treating peptic ulcers, such as H2-blockers, omeprazole, sucralfate, and metronidazole, can be used as well.

Besides the additives mentioned above, other active substance additives can also be applied to or included in the probe. Such materials can include, but are not limited to, preservatives, other polishing agents, hemostatic agents, surfactants, and so forth. Examples of suitable flavoring agents include various sugars, breath freshening agents, and artificial sweeteners as well as natural flavorants, such as cinnamon, vanilla and citrus. Moreover, in one embodiment, xylitol, which provides a cooling effect upon dissolution in the mouth and is anti-cariogenic, can be used as the flavoring agent. As stated, preservatives, such as methyl benzoate or methyl paraben, can also be applied to a probe of the present invention. The additives can be applied to the probe as is or they can be encapsulated or microencapsulated as is known in the art in order to preserve the additives and/or to provide the additive with time release properties.

Prior to being shipped and sold, a probe or a pack including a plurality of probes of the present invention can be placed in various sealed packaging in order to preserve any additives applied to the probes or otherwise to maintain the probes in a clean environment. Various packaging materials that can be used include suitable packaging materials known in the art, for example ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) films, film foil laminates, metalized films, multi-layered plastic films, and so forth. The packaging can be completely impermeable or may desirably be differentially permeable to the flavorants depending on the application.

The present invention may be better understood by reference to the following examples:

EXAMPLES

Various probes were made according to the present invention and tested. The probes were made with various fibrous web materials as described in the following examples. Several of the examples were made as a single probe while other examples were made as a cluster or pack of probes as illustrated in FIG. 19 and FIG. 20. The probes were constructed from the materials and the sealed edges of the probes were formed using an ultrasonic cut-and-seal process essentially as described above. As described above, the ultrasonic horn was used to cut through the materials and to simultaneously weld (seal) them together to form the sealed edge during the cutting operation. The specific horn used was similar to the one depicted in FIG. 21, and had flat cutting sections approximately 0.13 millimeters wide and welding/sealing sections angled at about 45 degrees. In addition to the description above relating to FIG. 21, the ultrasonic die was configured such that, after the cutting section of the horn passed through the fibrous web material(s), the horn upon contact with the anvil activated a ground-detect circuit that interrupted the power flow to the horn, thereby stopping the horn from further emitting ultrasonic energy. The resulting seal at the edges of the probes thus formed produced a semi-rigid edge of the fused thermoplastic polymer of the fibers, and these sealed edges were quite different in properties compared to the original fibrous web material and the fibrous web material surfaces of the probe body.

Example 1

A sample probe was formed as follows. A single fibrous web material which was a point unbonded spunbond laminate material was folded upon itself to form two layers of the material in face-to-face relation and having the point unbonded surfaces forming the exterior surfaces. A probe was then constructed by ultrasonically cutting and sealing the folded point unbonded spunbond laminate to form a probe similar in shape to the one illustrated in FIG. 1. The cutting and sealing operation was performed using a Branson 920 IW ultrasonic welder available from the Branson Ultrasonics Corporation of Danbury, Conn.

The point unbonded spunbond laminate fibrous web material used was formed by thermally bonding together a polypropylene spunbond web, a breathable film sheet and a bicomponent spunbond web. The breathable film sheet was located in between the spunbond webs. The polypropylene spunbond web had a basis weight of about 0.5 osy (about 17 gsm). The bicomponent spunbond web was made from bicomponent side-by-side type fibers having about 50 weight percent of a polyethylene component and about 50 weight percent of a polypropylene component. The bicomponent spunbond web had a basis weight of about 2.5 osy (about 85 gsm). The breathable film sheet was made from a linear low density polyethylene containing a calcium carbonate filler. The calcium carbonate filled film was stretched prior to lamination with the two spunbond materials in order to create a microporous film. The film had a basis weight of about 0.5 osy (about 17 gsm). The bicomponent spunbond web was thermally bonded to the film laminate using a point-unbonded pattern that created texturized surface on one face of the laminate. In particular, circular tufts were formed on the bicomponent spunbond web side of the laminate. During bonding, a top bond roll having the point-unbonded pattern was heated to about 260° F. (about 127° C.) while a bottom bond roll was heated to about 240° F. (about 116° C.).

The probe was then used as a dental probe or toothpick to remove food particles from the space between two teeth.

Example 2

A single piece of the same point unbonded spunbond laminate material used in Example 1 above was folded to three layers and a toothpick was made by ultrasonically welding using a Branson 920 IW ultrasonic welder. The point unbonded spunbond laminate thus formed both exterior sides of the probe and, in addition, formed a sandwiched additional material layer or core layer providing additional strength and rigidity to the probe.

Example 3

A single piece of the same point unbonded spunbond laminate material used in Example 1 above was folded upon itself to two layers and a foamed film material was placed between the two folded layers and a probe was made by ultrasonically welding using the Branson 920 IW ultrasonic welder. The point unbonded spunbond laminate thus formed the two outer surface sides of the probe with the middle or sandwiched core third layer (foam layer) providing additional strength and rigidity to the probe.

Example 4

Another probe of the present invention was formed as follows. Specifically, a piece of the same point unbonded spunbond laminate material used in Example 1 above was placed on top of a stretch bonded laminate (SBL) sheet material layer. Stretch-bonded laminate materials are disclosed, for example, by Vander Wielen et al. U.S. Pat. No. 4,720,415, incorporated herein by reference in its entirety, wherein a non-elastic web material may be bonded to an elastic material while the elastic material is held stretched, so that when the elastic material is relaxed, the non-elastic web material gathers between the bond locations, and the resulting elastic laminate material is stretchable to the extent that the non-elastic web material gathered between the bond locations allows the elastic material to elongate.

A probe was made by ultrasonically cutting and welding the two sheets together using a Branson 920 IW ultrasonic welder. The PUB spunbond laminate thus formed the one side and exterior surface of the probe and the SBL sheet formed the other side or exterior surface. The SBL sheet included threads or strands of an elastic material sandwiched between two polypropylene spunbond layers. The elastic thread or strand material used was KRATON® G2740 S-EB-S block copolymer available from Kraton Polymers U.S., LLC of Houston, Tex. The SBL sheet had an overall basis weight of about 2.5 osy (about 85 gsm). For this example, an imprinted magnesium bond plate served as an anvil for ultrasonic bonding of the SBL sheet to the point unbonded spunbond laminate. The bicomponent spunbond layer of the PUB spunbond fibrous web material laminate was placed adjacent to the SBL sheet during the ultrasonic welding process, which placed the textured nubs against the SBL sheet. As above, an ultrasonic welding process was used to cut and the probe into the shape illustrated in FIGS. 2 and 6-8. The edges of the probe were sealed simultaneously during the cutting as described above. Peppermint oil was applied to the probe by dipping the probe into the peppermint oil. This flavored probe was then used as a dental probe to clean the teeth of a user.

Example 5

A piece of the same PUB spunbond laminate material used in Example 1 was folded to two layers and placed on top of a SBL sheet and then another probe was made by ultrasonically welding using a Branson 920 IW ultrasonic welder. The probe was thus formed with the PUB laminate on one exterior side surface of the probe, and with the SBL material on the other exterior side surface, and having, as a sandwiched third or core material layer having the middle PUB layer providing additional strength and rigidity to the probe.

Example 6

A three dimensional shaped probe, that is a probe having height and width greater than that of the thicknesses of the layers used to form the probe was formed as follows. Specifically, the same point unbonded spunbond laminate material used in Example 1 above was folded into two layers with the texturized surfaces facing the exterior. A two-dimensional narrow cone shape was first cut from the folded material by ultrasonically sewing the long edge of the probe using the Branson ultrasonic welder to form the narrow cone having a sealed point and an open end. Then a three dimensional probe was formed by cutting and sealing along the open end of the cone forming a sealed edge that was perpendicular to the first sealed long edge. The final shape of the probe consisted of an elongate tubular body that terminated at a first end in a point and at the other end in a transverse or perpendicular flat seam.

While not described in detail herein, various additional potential constructional elements or features may be used without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, and various additional processing and/or finishing steps as are known in the art for processing of fibrous web materials may be performed on the probe and/or on the component materials of the probe without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Examples of additional processing include such as the application of treatments, printing of graphic designs or company logos. General examples of material treatments include one or more treatments to impart or increase wettability or hydrophilicity to a web material. Wettability treatment additives may be incorporated into a polymer melt as an internal treatment during the production of an individual component material layer, or may be added topically at some point following the formation of an individual component material layer.

Although various embodiments of the invention have been described using specific terms, devices, and methods, such description is for illustrative purposes only. The words used are words of description rather than of limitation. It is to be understood that changes and variations may be made by those of ordinary skill in the art without departing from the spirit or scope of the present invention, which is set forth in the following claims. In addition, it should be understood that aspects of the various embodiments may be interchanged both in whole and in part. Therefore, the spirit and scope of the appended claims should not be limited to the description of the preferred versions contained therein.