The US$3 billion global market for toothpaste is on the verge of a shake-up as new biotechnologies come through that not only curtail sensitivity problems but will also enable teeth to regrow to fill in small cavities.
Today's toothpaste comes in a plethora of flavors and can of course whiten teeth, but from a medical viewpoint, little has progressed in the 40 years since fluoride was added to fight decay.
But scientists in various countries have developed differing technologies that produce similar results to deaden sensitivity and recalcify teeth, problems that have increasing significance as populations age.
Researchers have found fluoride ceases to be as effective with older people. That's because the elderly have more difficulty generating the large amounts of saliva -- loaded with calcium and phosphate -- necessary to combine with fluoride to resist the demineralization of teeth.
Richard Bernholt, managing director of west London-based dental care company Periproducts said: "The older you are the more likely you are to have gums receding and sensitivity problems because of what you eat."
Periproducts, which sells Retardex products in the UK, has licensed NovaMin technology from a Florida firm of the same name and hopes to be the first company to have it formulated in a retail brand in the UK later this year.
Periproducts plans to launch its new toothpaste in October at the British Dental Trade Association exhibition at NEC Birmingham. The company wants to get its as-yet-unnamed toothpaste with dentists and into the retail chain before the big names in oral hygiene -- Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever and Procter & Gamble reformulate their products with NovaMin or competing calcium phosphate compounds.
Periproducts chose NovaMin because it had a long history of successful clinical trials.
"It's a product that actually works," said Bernholt.
It differs from market leader Sensodyne because it doesn't deaden a tooth's nerve-endings but builds a calcium shell to protect the nerves from potentially painful hot and cold liquids.
NovaMin repairs the tiny holes in teeth that allow the pain to happen, instead of just covering the sensation of pain.
For its part, NovaMin the company is in serious discussions with two of the big names, CEO Randy Scott said.
NovaMin is also discussing licensing deals with another 50 or more companies around the world and Scott expects growth to explode in the next nine to 12 months.
The genesis of the technology goes back to the Vietnam War era. US scientists developed a material that helped in bone regeneration for combat-wounded troops. Later, two dental scientists at the University of Maryland took that bioactive compound and found a way to adapt the same technology for renewing teeth.
That bioactive glass was eventually licensed by a company called US Biomaterials, which then spun off NovaMin, the company, to capitalize on what Scott says is a US$2 billion opportunity. The company is backed with US$8 million in venture capital.
Ironically, interest in NovaMin has grown as competitors have emerged with other types of calcium phosphate formulae. One such product is Recaldent, which was developed at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Britain's Cadbury Schweppes has acquired the worldwide rights to that technology but at the moment seems more interested in using it in chewing gum than in toothpaste.
The company says that last year, largely driven by Recaldent gum, it was the fastest growing gum company in Japan, which is the world's second largest gum market.
Recaldent-based gums under Cadbury's Trident brand are also big sellers in both Thailand and Mexico.
The company has licensed companies in Australia and the US to make dental products with Recaldent but company spokesman Rowan Pearman said there were no plans for such products in the UK.
However, he said, "as more dental professionals become aware of Recaldent and its benefits, you might expect the number and variety of applications to increase exponentially."
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