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Denttabs: Starting a Dental Revolution, One Tab at a Time

Published November 9, 2023
Published November 9, 2023

The last time tabs started a revolution, they were drenched in acid. Now they come with a less psychedelic bite, but equal potential to shake things up. “I'm not a scientist. I never went to university. I'm not a dentist. I'm not a biologist. I'm just a normal guy who's been asking too many questions,” Axel Kaiser, founder of Denttabs, humbly admits from his Berlin office in the city’s Wedding district. To the point but humorous, Kaiser wasn’t looking to start a radical alternative movement—although his brand certainly has the makings of it.

A former car mechanic and photographer (whose lens captured names like Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones), Kaiser’s brother, Christopher, founded Kaiser Dental Singapore in 1989. In 1992, “bored by his original life,” he was curious enough to join forces with his brother to create proDentum in Berlin, the company’s German outpost and sales organization providing affordable dental prostheses.

Having a naturally curious mind, Kaiser decided to take things further and assisted one of the company’s customers as part of his doctoral thesis in the development of a water-free toothpaste—the first iteration of which debuted in 2003, followed by the official founding of Denttabs in 2009. It was here that he started to question the ingredients included in conventional toothpaste: how many of them were actually necessary for dental health and which components could be potentially harmful to human health. Anyone who has come into contact with a dentist’s office knows the routine of brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash morning and evening. According to Kaiser, there are (noncavity) holes to pick with this intensive regime. “Tooth care is bullshit; all of it is wrong,” the founder says bluntly. “The ingredients; the idea of cleaning a rough surface with an agent. It cannot clean; it gives you the illusion of it through its foaming properties.”

Controversial ingredients found in traditional toothpaste formulas include triclosan, triclocarban, and parabens. The mouth membrane absorbs ingredients that are then absorbed into the bloodstream, not to mention the ingredients we ingest through our saliva. “Regular toothpaste is made of 50% water, and to turn that water into a paste you need a lot of agents, which like any good drug goes through the tissue in your mouth into your body. If you do that for long enough time, that may do harm. You’re losing your hair at 50; that may be because one of the ingredients has accumulated in your body so much that you can’t grow hair anymore,” he explains. But even with the science, Kaiser acknowledges that “there’s a long list of possibilities. The problem is you can’t prove this; especially with the use of toothpaste because it’s over the course of 30 to 40 years.” Toothpaste companies invest millions into educational initiatives, while dentists’ offices are sponsored by certain toothpaste companies, which some argue could make for a biased platform that is pro-toothpaste, anti-ingredient research.

While the theory remains unprovable, customers of the dental tabs were seeing improved results including reduction in gum bleeding and decreased tooth sensitivity. “If nothing was curing the issues these people had before, then what they were using was the problem, and that is the [conventional] toothpaste: it irritates the tissue and it’s very difficult to thoroughly clean the teeth because you have a certain roughness on them, but you need to polish them so the surface is too smooth for anything that wants to attach to it. If plaque can’t attach to your teeth, you cannot develop tooth decay,” he notes.

Denttabs minimal formula (containing 13 to 14 ingredients depending on the product) shows that sometimes less is more. Its main components are renewable microcrystalline cellulose to polish teeth, citric acid to increase saliva flow, sodium bicarbonate to regulate pH, and silica as well as sodium lauroyl glutamate to act as gentle cleaning agents. It requires no water for production. Free of plastic packaging, the tablets can be bought in industrially compostable, bio-based sachets with 80% less packaging than traditional toothpaste.

As for fluoride, which has been lauded for its ability to prevent tooth decay, Kaiser was astounded to realize that not even the experts themselves knew much about it. “I know thousands of dentists. I started asking them what fluoride is and how it works. Nobody knew. They said it’s good and protects you from tooth decay, but the technical detail was difficult to figure out,” he explains.

Sodium fluoride, a close cousin of sodium chloride or table salt, is what Denttabs uses in its formula. Upon contact with water, the ions of sodium and fluoride separate, which enables the fluoride to attach to the surface of the teeth. In the case of toothpaste, which is 50% water, the ions are already separated before they get anywhere near one’s molars. Laboratory tests showed that Denttabs showed better fluoride distribution than traditional toothpaste, offering high remineralization potential, with the product offering significant plaque reduction at an equal, and at times higher, effectiveness. When testing the longevity of tulips in glasses of water containing conventional toothpaste versus Denttabs, the flowers in the conventional toothpaste glass were completely wilted after three days, while those in the Denttabs glass were still going strong. It may seem like a simple experiment, but the results speak for themselves.

“The conclusion is easy. That's the daily dose that you put in your mouth twice a day. Okay, you don't eat it up, but you use it for years and years and years. I was really mad. I’ve been lied to all my life. But me as well as all the others did not question it. Don't get me wrong, nobody did any of the bad intentionally. Toothpaste was not invented to harm the world. They were a little careless in the time of invention but on the other side in those days a lot of what we know now wasn't known,” he states.

“I know thousands of dentists. I started asking them what fluoride is and how it works. Nobody knew. They said it’s good and protects you from tooth decay, but the technical detail was difficult to figure out.”
By Axel Kaiser, founder, Denttabs

Furthermore, ingredients that disrupt the oral microbiome, such as the high level of alcohol content in mouthwash, for example—and with studies showing a potential link between the health of the oral microbiome and neuropsychiatric disorders—protecting its homeostasis might have benefits beyond just better-smelling breath. “All the fungi, viruses, bacteria in the air, the reason you do not die instantly when you take a deep breath is the mouth’s microbiome. That’s the first barrier of defense,” Kaiser remarks. Floss is not spared a necessary overhaul either, as Kaiser notes that the waxy residue left behind by waxed floss serves as the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

The brand also offers a fluoride-free option of its hero product but not for the reasons one might think. While fluoride has come under fire in “clean” toothpaste circles due to the skeletal and tooth enamel fluorosis (and more) caused by excessive exposure, the brand recommends its fluoride-free option for babies and toddlers who may swallow excess product. Furthermore, the health hazards are more associated with the fluorine rather than sodium fluoride (which can be found in table salt) contained in the tablets. 

“The reason that we have tablets without fluoride is not because there are people who think they can kill themselves with the ingredient—you would have to swallow 1.5 kilograms of tablets. The reason we offer a fluoride-free option is because there are only two jobs that fluoride does: enamel repair, and when that is done, to build a micrometer-thin layer of sodium fluoride on the surface of your teeth to better protect against acid erosion,” Kaiser explains. "When all that is in good order, fluoride still does no harm but is not a necessity anymore."

Despite the proven benefits of the product and an exciting new, eco-friendly format, there were initial difficulties in uptake when the product was pitched to multinationals. “Nobody wanted to have our products. One of them was honest enough to say not to me, but to a friend of mine, ‘You have to choose; you do toothpaste or you do tablets. You can't do both because once you know the toothpaste is potentially poisoning your body, then the consumer can sue you,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘If you don't want to have it, then I'll do myself.’ I did that for 15 years, successfully enough to not give it up. Then came the sustainability and plastic-free movement.”

Packaging-free shoppers snapped up the product with enthusiasm, as did the British market prior Brexit. Around 2018, interest in the format began to surge, with plenty of competitor brands popping up in response, Kaiser recalls. “Everybody started copying us without really understanding what we do. We do not come from sustainability. We come from systemic problems. We do not even come from dental care. But sustainability is what made us known in the world.” Today Denttabs consists of a 15-person-strong team, with its product distributed in over 40 countries and its direct-to-consumer presence.

As to why there hasn’t been more attention drawn to the ingredients inside traditional toothpaste, Kaiser attributes it to “ignorance. Dentists may say the industry knows best because they have scientific proof. What they have is a big marketing department. Most of the toothpaste companies don’t test the product; they test on sales. We’re talking about 1 to 1.5 billion tubes sold worldwide per month. That's a hell of a business. It's undoubted, it's undiscussed.” It’s not billions of tubes a month, but it’s gained a loyal following for its 360-degree approach to sustainable dental care. 

Currently developing new aromas for the toothpaste tablets and having explored the possibilities of a mouthwash alternative, its founder is hoping the brand’s mission can grow beyond the pouched product. “I want to give knowledge to the people to make their own decisions. Once you made the switch to Denttabs and don't use toothpaste anymore, let’s start rethinking everything else as well: cosmetics, shampoo, food; it's all the same. These are nothing but addictions and to get away from something we're addicted to is not as difficult as we always think. It's a decision that you make and then you find a way. I reach out to people on this through a very simple product: toothpaste. Everybody knows, everybody cares; even those who don't use it, they thought about it. I'm not trying to scare people off. I'm not trying to scold them. I'm trying to help them understand, that's all. If you want to stick to toothpaste, as long as it exists, go ahead but know what you're doing,” he explains.

Passionate about the bigger picture at play, Kaiser concludes, “We as mankind need to rethink things. All the knowledge of the world is available in a cell phone. You have to intentionally ignore it, but that doesn't change anything. We now know that we did so much wrong out of ignorance and arrogance because we thought we knew better than nature. We have to go back to nature. We have to understand that we're a part of it. We will not be able to adapt to excessive heat, excessive cold, or poisoned food. We need to learn that whatever we do has an impact.”


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