By Timothy Hyland
Mitchell Goldberg admits one of the biggest challenges he faces in marketing his company's new dental health product is getting consumers — and, indeed, dental professionals — to wrap their mind around the benefits of eating something that was designed and built to taste like… piece of candy.
"It's counterintuitive, yes," says Goldberg, president of Ortek Therapeutics, a private healthcare firm based in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. "We're telling them, 'Here's a sugar-free chewy that is quite delicious.' And we're trying to get them to understand that, yes, here's something that tastes like candy that is actually good for your teeth."
It's an unusual claim in the world of dental health products, to be sure. But Goldberg says the claims his company makes about the product, called BasicBites, are indeed true. And he says he has the science to prove it.
Broadly speaking, Ortek claims that BasicBites support and bolster oral health by coating the teeth in two nutrients — arginine bicarbonate and calcium carbonate — that replicate "nature's way" of keeping teeth strong and healthy. The company says that eating just two BasicBites per day can support the development of beneficial bacteria within the so-called oral microbiome — the collection of microorganisms that live in and throughout our mouths. Those beneficial bacteria can then counteract the potential side-effects of harmful bacteria, thereby preventing the development of plaque acids.
Additionally, the company says the product delivers calcium into teeth through a process called remineralization. And again, it does so via a candy-like chew that comes in two flavors.
The product was developed, Goldberg says, based on an extensive body of research from Dr. Israel Kleinberg DDS, PhD, DSc, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology in the School of Dental Medicine at Stony Brook University. Widely viewed as a pioneer in the world of microbiome research, Dr. Kleinberg developed a particular expertise in the “mixed-bacteria ecological approach” to dental health. It was a holistic approach that questioned conventional ideas about dental health, in particular when it came to the relative value of bacteria.
What Dr. Kleinberg saw, Goldberg says, is that bacteria are not necessarily bad; but rather, only bad bacteria are bad.
“At the time, he was really focused on the saliva chemistry and the oral microbiome, and as it turns out he saw the process that nature provides has a lot of benefits — numerous studies have since confirmed that,” Goldberg says. “You had some people focused on fluoride, and the idea that, ‘We need to kill the bugs.’ But he was the one saying, ‘Wait, you don’t want to be killing everything’ because, first of all, they grow back, and when you do those things you’re killing the good along the bad.’ He was saying that if we start feeding the good bugs — if you start providing them with nourishment, they could crowd out the bad bacteria.”
Ortek first licensed Dr. Kleinberg's technology in 2015. At the time, the company was investigating the use of Dr. Kleinberg’s research not just in oral health, but possibly one day in the treatment or management of serious infection including staph, MRSA, and MSSA.
For now, though, it’s not surprising that the research is being employed first to improve oral health — because while science’s understanding of the microbiome in overall health is still developing, the oral microbiome is among the most fully explored, says Robert J. Genco, DDS, PhD, Director of the UB Microbiome Center at the University at Buffalo.
While Dr. Genco declined to comment specifically on Ortek’s claims regarding BasicBites, he confirmed that research has found a definitive link between oral microbiome health and balance, and the potential development of dental issues.
“We know the most about the gut microbiome, and the next best understood human microbiome is the oral microbiome,” he says. “We know the oral microbiome functions to keep the oral cavity healthy in many ways, including resisting colonization by pathogenic organisms, and by assisting in digestion of starches and foods containing nitrates.”
He adds: “The oral microbiome can become pathogenic at certain sites, including on the tooth surface and in deep periodontal pockets to cause dental decay and periodontal disease. Shifts in the oral microbiome induced by antibiotics can lead to overgrowth of Candida albicans, causing mucous membrane fungal infections.”
Going forward, Ortek’s Goldberg says his biggest challenge remains a marketing one. First, he says, he must get consumers to understand the relative nuances of microbiome health — not to mention the idea that BasicBites should be eaten before bed… but after brushing. Because BasicBites taste like candy…this is an unorthodox sell. Second, and perhaps more daunting, there is the always difficult task of getting dental professionals to listen to his pitch, and then relying on them to relay it to their patients.
“I think this is all about educating the dental professional and the consumers,” Goldberg says. “There are hundreds of thousands of dental professionals out there, and they are bombarded with different products and technologies…but [the message we have] is not as simple as whitening your teeth or freshening your breath.”
Author: Contributing writer Timothy Hyland has more than 20 years’ experience as a writer, reporter, and editor. His work has also appeared in Fast Company, Roll Call, Philadelphia Business Journal, and the Washington Times.
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