Toothpaste startup hopes to brush away competition

Did you brush your teeth yet this morning? You may have started using the brand of toothpaste you prefer a long time ago, but one Silicon Valley startup is out to redefine the way you care for your mouth, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Toothpaste commercials have certainly changed over the years, and the product on the shelf now comes in a lot of varieties and flavors, but its effectiveness hasn't changed much in decades.

"It's not a bad product, but it has a lot of room for improvement.," Livionex founder and CEO Amit Goswamy said.

He doesn't call his new product toothpaste, but rather a dental gel.

It claims to be more than twice as effective than traditional toothpaste, a product consumers spend $1.8 billion on each year. Despite that, 90 percent of adults have gum inflammation, known as gingivitis, and 47 percent have gum disease.

"We said, 'If we can make a dent in this, not only will this be a good business, but we will have done something good,"' Goswamy said.

So in the shadow of Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook and Google, Livionex spent five years developing a seemingly low-tech product -- a next-generation toothpaste.

"We're actually breaking the molecular bond between the plaque sticking to the tooth. So it just falls off," Goswamy said.

Conventional toothpaste uses detergents and abrasives to remove plaque, but Livionex claims to be the first to attack bacteria at the molecular level, making it harder for the it to stick to our teeth in the first place.

To prove it, Goswamy commissioned a clinical trial at the University of California Irvine.

When Petra Wilder-Smith, director of dentistry at the university's Beckman Laser Institute first saw the results, she was very surprised.

After a three-week study comparing Livionex to top-rated Colgate Total, she found that subjects who used Livionex had 2.5 times less plaque, and their gums were more than twice as healthy.

"But also the structure of the plaque was quite different," Wilder-Smith said. "They did not seem to be bound onto the teeth in the same way as we normally see in dental plaque."

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Images of a tooth four hours after using Livionex compared to regular toothpaste reveal much less bacteria and less the sticky substance that binds the bacteria to the tooth.

If Wilder-Smith's research found the product was no more effective than Colgate or Crest, she said that's what they would have published.

"We reserve the right to publish the results no matter what they are, because we're scientists, and we're clinicians," Wilder-Smith said.

The American Dental Association calls the product promising, but a spokesperson told "CBS This Morning," "Livionex research appears to be in the early stages, and claims of effectiveness against plaque and gingivitis are premature."

Livionex is not inexpensive. It's $20 for 1.7 ounces, but Goswamy said cavities and root canals aren't inexpensive, either.

"We have to move the discussion from, 'How does it taste?' to 'How does it work?' Because, $20 is expensive, but if you're investing in your oral health, it pays back many times over," he said.

He hopes his attempt at disrupting the dental care industry pays off.