Sweet Tooth

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | February 4, 2010

Will an influx of new natural products bring a smile to the sluggish oral care category?

Did the desire to have a pearly white smile and fresh breath fade with the darkening economy?

For the 52 weeks ended Nov. 29, 2009, sales of tooth bleaching/whitening products in supermarkets, drug stores and mass market retailers (excluding Walmart) fell nearly 2% to $222.5 million, mouthwashes and dental rinses dipped 1.7% to $700.8 million and flosses floundered at $129.8 million (a drop of 1.58%), according to Information Resources, Inc. (IRI). Sales of the category workhorse—toothpaste—were $1.27 billion, a rise of less than one percent.

Industry observers suggested that when faced with economic uncertainty, consumers looked for ways to cut costs when it came to the care of their bicuspids, and subsequently began to question what was truly necessary in their oral care regimen. They sought value and switched to products that promised multiple benefits—such as a mouthwash that would freshen breath and whiten teeth—rather than buying a separate whitening product and rinse.

“People are taking some cost cutting measures in oral care,” noted Molly Heyl-Rushmer, a senior analyst covering health and wellness with Mintel. According to a poll conducted by the Chicago-based market research firm, the recession caused about three in 10 respondents to adopt some sort of cost-cutting measures. Furthermore, Mintel’s proprietary research revealed that 55% of respondents “can’t tell a difference between most big name brands of toothpaste,” and 59% said they believe private label oral care products“are just as good as name brands.”

The Crest Pro-Health System incorporates Crest Pro-Health toothpaste, Crest Pro-Health Rinse and an Oral-B electric toothbrush.

New Technologies and Regimens

Operating in a more competitive marketplace that’s been bitten by the recession, companies are looking to spark interest with more sophisticated technologies and new ingredients aimed at improving overall oral health.
For example, while gels and pastes are pretty much the status quo in American bathrooms, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) now offers an Iso-active foaming gel within its Aquafresh and Sensodyne families.

Packaged in bag-in-valve canisters, the gel-to-foam action is a result of the inclusion of isopentane, which responds to increases in temperature, which rises in the user’s mouth once she starts brushing. The foaming action disperses active ingredients quickly to penetrate hard-to-reach areas of the mouth—a critical component to improving overall oral health,
Burt’s Bees’ new toothpaste line is the first to be certified by the Natural Products Association
according to GSK. Available in five different varieties, the Iso-active technology has been available in Europe since 2007 and debuted in the U.S. last summer.

P&G has been studying how combinations of specific products might lead to healthier mouths. For example, experts in Cincinnati wanted to see whether the use of a rinse increases the efficacy of a toothpaste or how specific brushing techniques might improve oral care overall.

“Oral hygiene isn’t a stand alone enterprise,” explained Dr. Robert Gerlach, DDS, MPH, research fellow, P&G Worldwide Clinical Investigations.
The firm developed a specific regimen: the Crest Pro-Health System, which incorporates Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste—a brand that recorded a 19% gain in sales to $78.1 million, according to IRI data—along with Crest Pro-Health Rinse and P&G’s Oral-B ProfessionalCare SmartSeries 5000 with SmartGuide electric toothbrush.

According to P&G, the brush’s oscillating-rotating technology loosens and sweeps away plaque to provide superior plaque removal benefits, the stabilized stannous fluoride in Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste inhibits the metabolic activity of destructive bacteria and the cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) in Crest Pro-Health Rinse inhibits the regrowth of plaque biofilm.

“We found that if you use the right combination of products it suppresses plaque growth overnight—and we can keep you from growing new plaque during the day. I personally think this is one of the most beneficial offerings for public health since Crest with fluoride. Plaque is the basis for most common oral diseases like gingivitis, and periodontal disease,” Gerlach said, noting that there is increasing research on the connection between oral health and overall medical health.

New Natural Dentist Antiseptic Mouth Rinse, available in a cool mint flavor, carries the over-the-counter drug label for its antiseptic

Long in the Tooth

While fighting plaque is the main challenge in oral care, an aging population and even the increased use of whiteners has spiked activity in products that work to reduce sensitivity.

“We all are getting longer in the tooth,” said Susanne Kuehl, a registered dental hygenist who is the mouth rinse category leader at Tom’s of Maine. “As we age, roots are exposed and often cool air, cool liquid and even whitening products can cause sensitivity.”

According to Colgate, almost two-thirds of people worldwide will suffer from tooth sensitivity at some point in their lives. To address the issue, Colgate is relying on Pro-Argin. Unveiled globally in April 2009, Pro-Argin uses arginine, an amino acid that effectively plugs the pathways to sensitive tooth nerves. Rather than primarily numbing sensitivity pain, Pro-Argin helps block the transmission of heat, cold, air and pressure that stimulate pain receptors within teeth. Pro-Argin can be found in Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief, which is offered direct to consumers in Europe, while in the U.S., the technology is used in professional products, according to a Colgate spokesperson.

Tom’s of Maine is offering relief to consumers with its new Maximum Strength Sensitive Toothpaste, which combines cavity protection with naturally sourced potassium nitrate—not ammonia or natric acid—to soothe sensitive teeth. While potassium nitrate is the same effective FDA-approved ingredient for pain relief used in many leading brands, Tom’s of Maine is the only brand to source it from nature. In two independent clinical studies, 100% of participants reported reduced sensitivity after using the sensitive toothpaste, according to the company. The new variant, which has been on shelves since September, comes in soothing mint and true mint, the latter of which does not contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

Natural Progression

Tom’s is by far the leading player in the natural segment—the brightest spot within the oral care sector. According to Mintel, between 2006-2009, sales of natural care toothpastes in FDMx outlets rose 14.7%—growth that has far outpaced the rest of the market—and Tom’s commands a whopping 79% of that category. The next largest player—The Natural Dentist—accounts for approximately 9%.

“There is clearly room in there for another big player,” noted Mintel’s Heyl-Rushmer.

Enter Burt’s Bees. The company’s new line of toothpastes—which hit Whole Foods and select grocery accounts in January and is rolling out to other national grocery retailers and Target, Walmart and CVS through April—features six SKUs with whitening, multi-care and child variants in fluoride and fluoride-free options.

Tom’s of Maine’s new Wicked Fresh! Fresh Breath toothpaste features a patent-pending supercritical licorice extract that reduces odor-causing volatile sulfur compounds in the mouth.
The range marks the company’s second foray into oral care; Doctor Burt’s cinna mint and lavender mint toothpaste were both discontinued a few years ago. Burt’s vowed it would only return to the category if it could deliver something “wonderful which we could differentiate with technology,” Celeste Lutrario, director of research and development, told Happi.

As such, Burt’s Bees is the first toothpaste to be certified by the Natural Products Association.

“If you look at other toothpastes—if you look at Colgate or Crest—their ingredient lists will all be very similar. With ours, there is a huge difference. We wanted to come out with great toothpastes, and we did a lot of clinical studies that prove they do meet the claims,”Lutrario said.

A key ingredient in Burt’s new toothpaste line is cranberry, which has been heavily researched by the dental community, but not widely used to date, according to Lutrario. “There is lot of data behind it, but no one has seemed to tap into it,” she said. The cranberry extract used by Burt’s blocks bacteria from adhering to teeth and gums to help prevent plaque buildup.

Other ingredients include calcium sodium phosphosilicate, which helps promote strong, healthy teeth and polishes away surface stains, and xylitol, which sweetens naturally and does not promote cavities, according to the company.

Also key for Lutrario was the“absence of negatives.” The pastes do not contain SLS or propylene glycol, but rather sodium cocyl glutamate and glycerin, respectively.

Still, taking on Tom’s won’t be easy. Operating from Kennebunk, ME, Tom’s has stepped up development of customer-driven, efficacious products, evidenced by new Long Lasting Wicked Fresh! Fresh Breath toothpaste and mouthwash. Called a “departure” from its current stable, companyofficials insist Wicked Fresh will speak to a wide group of consumers.

“Fresh breath is something that every segment of the population wants—whether you are aging and your mouth chemistry is changing, or you are a teen going on a first date. The market is very broad,” said Ellen Saksen, Tom’s of Maine toothpaste category manager.

“The whole project was an exciting opportunity to connect with consumers in ways we haven’t done before,” Saksen added, noting that to formulate the line, Tom’s went to consumers with a blank slate and in the end came out with a toothpaste that had a “brighter, cleaner profile,” with a fun name and punched up packaging.

Wicked Fresh toothpaste features a mint oil blend and patent-pending supercritical licorice extract that together reduce odor-causing volatile sulfur compounds (VSC) in the mouth. The mouthwash uses zinc chloride to inhibit VSCs with a unique natural formula that helps stop bad breath without the burn like conventional brands, according to Kuehl.

The Natural Dentist Inc. isn’t idle either. The Medford, MA-based firm has rolled out a mouthwash and revamped its children’s toothpaste line.

New Natural Dentist Antiseptic Mouth Rinse, available in a cool mint flavor, is billed as the only natural rinse to carry the over-the-counter drug label for its antiseptic properties. With menthol as its active ingredient, the rinse is formulated to kill germs, keep the mouth clean and provide long-lasting breath freshening, all without alcohol or artificial ingredients, according to the company.

“Unique in the natural oral care category, our products are comprised of scientific blends of natural and FDA recognized drug actives,” said Kristine Schreiber, director of brand marketing. “We think it’s important to offer an array of natural and effective products to fit all consumers’ needs from antigingivitis and whitening to anticavity and children’s formulas.”

According to Schreiber, The Natural Dentist offers natural, yet scientifically tested, oral care products that rival conventional products. The packaging includes an OTC drug label because the products meet the FDA requirements for using one,“and it is something the consumer expects when looking for effective products,” she said.

This month, The Natural Dentist adds a new flavor of Cavity Zapper Fluoride Toothpaste, its kid’s product. New Groovy Grape, like the existing Berry Blast flavor, has a smooth gel formula and uses naturally-occurring mica to add sparkle. It is formulated without SLS.

The White Stuff?
While consumers remain smitten with dazzling white smiles, the whiteners category—once the darling of the oral care market—continues to be down in the mouth.

Dentovations’ Luster Weekend Tooth Whitening System is one of the fastest growing brands in the whitening category.
According to IRI, sales of tooth bleachers and whiteners for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 29, 2009 slid 1.95% to $222.5 million, with many of the top SKUs posting sales and unit declines.

Still, some brands had reason to smile, including Church & Dwight and Dentovations. Sales of Arm & Hammer Whitening Booster, a peroxide gel that whitens while you brush, rose 109%, while Dentovations’ Luster Weekend Tooth Whitening System, which includes Accelerator Mouth Rinse and Super Whitening Gel, posted a gain of 89%.

Industry observers contend more consumers are gravitating to less expensive alternatives, including mouthwash and toothpaste that boast whitening power.

But according to Dr. Laura Torrado, a cosmetic dentist in New York City, these products are best for upkeep. “A rinse or a whitening paste just does not offer enough concentration or contact time with the tooth to produce a bleaching effect. It is good just for maintenance,” she said.

Despite slowing sales, the overall increased use of whiteners has become a cause of concern for the American Dental Association (ADA), which in November asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to establish appropriate classifications for tooth-whitening chemicals. Citing concern about the safety of whitening products that are often administered without the benefit of professional consultation or examination by a dentist, “the tremendous expansion of products available directly to consumers and application of products in venues such as shopping malls, cruise ships, and salons is troubling since consumers have little or no assurance regarding the safety of product ingredients, doses or the professional qualifications of individuals employed in these non-dental settings,” said ADA president Dr. Ron Tankersley and executive director Dr. Kathleen O'Loughlin, in a letter to the agency.

ADA said that the application of chemically-based tooth whitening or bleaching agents can harm teeth, gums and other tissues in the mouth. The association also pointed out that such concerns have prompted many states to prevent application of tooth whitening products in non-dental settings.
According to Schreiber, instead of SLS the line contains foaming agents sourced from coconuts, namely cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium cocoyl glycinate.

“These ingredients lack the harshness of sodium lauryl sulfate and are not linked to mouth sores and irritations as SLS has been,” she said.

While removing SLS pleases parents with concerns, the key element to Cavity Zapper’s success lies elsewhere.

“For kids, taste is everything. If it doesn’t taste good, kids won’t want to use it. Moms want to instill good oral care habits in their children without the struggle,” Schreiber said.

A Keen Time for Green?

The big question is whether or not consumers will have an appetite for green brands as the economy recovers.

“Times are very tough, but we have seen consistent growth despite the economic downturn last fall,” said Schreiber, noting that year over year, The Natural Dentist has posted double-digit growth and continued acceptance of its products in new retail accounts.

“In general, green shoppers are committed to a natural lifestyle and are still willing to spend a little more on brands they believe in. Additionally, we’ve offered incentives to our consumers to help them save money on our products and make natural oral care more accessible,”Schreiber said.

This year, The Natural Dentist will try to reach dental professionals by holding natural oral care symposiums at major dental shows. At these symposiums, company executives will educate dentists about natural ingredients, reveal research to support efficacy claims and provide “real-life” results from dental professionals that use The Natural Dentist.

“It’s a multi-tiered approach that will allow the professionals to have confidence recommending natural oral care products, and specifically, The Natural Dentist,” Schreiber noted.

Dr. Cecilia Gyllenhoff, a dentist serving the Washington, DC area, confirmed she has heard more talk about “holistic” methods of handling dental disease. “Part of this may be the chemistry of the product or this may simply be compliance. The natural products have a variety of natural ingredients that some find taste better and are less harsh on their teeth and gums, so patients are apt to use them,” she said.

Clearly more activity from high-profile companies like Burt’s Bees will generate buzz among consumers. And competition for those coveted dollars will rachet up as the economy rebounds.

Tom’s of Maine contends the recession has made the firm more responsive.

“We noticed that consumers are much more discerning about the products they are spending money on. That is driving our commitment to clinical testing and consumer testing,” said Saksen. “We are depending more on the consumer. It has made us a stronger company.”
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