The VeriFresh line of products – We’ve learned a tremendous amount about what dental hygienists care about, and we’ve developed products to really address those concerns.The first thing most people probably feel like doing after talking with Theodore Welt and Jonathan Weisberg is brushing their teeth and cleaning their tongues.
It’s not because they’re disgusting or anything, quite the contrary. It’s just that the two founders of Israeli company VeriFresh Ltd. are very persuasive and descriptive when talking about their line of futuristic products including tongue cleaners, gum massagers and flossers. They believe they’re setting a new standard in oral care, which provides a solution for the 200 million Americans who suffer from a range of oral problems ranging from bad breath to periodontal-disease-causing bacteria.
“Wherever there are toothbrushes, there’s also going to be a tongue cleaner,” Welt states emphatically like a mouth care evangelist, as he takes the VeriFresh tongue cleaner out of his briefcase to demonstrate.
According to Welt, the tongue cleaner is a new design of an age-old product that provides many oral and general-health benefits.
“We believe this is the most advanced tongue cleaner in the world. It has been designed with the philosophy of ergonomics and built according to the anatomy of the mouth. It has a flexible head, seven blades which are thin and narrow – for perfect control,” he adds with the enthusiasm of a racing buff describing his latest sport car. The cleaner’s design allows the ribs of the head to gently clean the tongue and to reach the sensitive area at the rear of the tongue where toothbrushes cannot reach.
But there’s more than hyperbole to the Rumanian-born Welt’s pitch. The benefit of tongue cleaning has been known for centuries in Eastern cultures, and more recently has been medically and scientifically proven to affect everything from your breath to your heart.
According to Welt’s American-born partner Weisberg, there are three important aspects related to cleaning the tongue.
– Bacteria which forms at the root of the tongue is one of the primary causes of bad breath.
– When you go to a dental hygienist today, it’s more than likely they will recommend a tongue cleaner for you, and almost certainly if you have bad breath.
“Bacteria on the root of the tongue is the same bacteria that migrates to the gums and makes it susceptible to periodontitis – gum disease – the big new frontier in oral care,” Weisberg told ISRAEL21c. “Today, people care for their teeth pretty well – now the question is how to attack gum disease. This issue is receiving a lot of attention from professional oral care people.”
– Thirdly, there’s conclusive research that ties bacteria remaining on the tongue into various health problems. Most recently, Weisberg explains, there was a National Institute of Health article that tied the streptococcus bacteria on the root of the tongue to inflammation of the arteries which are connected to heart disease and stroke.
The study published last year in the medical journal Circulation, found a direct association between cardiovascular disease and periodontal bacteria. The study reported that older adults who have higher proportions of four periodontal-disease-causing bacteria inhabiting their mouths also tend to have thicker carotid arteries, a strong predictor of stroke and heart attack. The study was supported by four agencies of the National Institutes of Health.
According to the authors, the data marks the first report of a direct association between cardiovascular disease and bacteria involved in periodontal disease. However, the researchers stop short of stating that the heart troubles are directly caused by the bacteria in the mouth, a distinction Weisberg is careful to make.
“There’s this whole ‘general health’ aspect, which we tend not to focus on because it can bring up problems of claiming that tongue cleaning will cure heart disease. However, now that this research is coming out, that issue is becoming a little more prominent,” he says.
“There was a concept 50-60 years ago in the medical world called the ‘focal infection theory’ that bacteria from chronic gum infections sheds into the blood stream and causes all kinds of illnesses. This theory went out of favor in the middle of the 20th century, but it’s now receiving attention again.”
Welt and Weisberg have been far ahead of the tongue cleaning awareness trend ever since Welt first heard about the concept over a decade ago.
“A Rumanian friend had heard a report about the importance of cleaning the tongue for general mouth hygiene, due to the bacteria and diseases that form there. The concept itself comes from the Far East and India – they’ve been doing it for thousands of years, and cleaning the tongue is part of their integral body hygiene.
“They know that the tongue is part of the digestive system, which they view as a whole, and it’s part of Indian philosophy that the tongue helps to eliminate toxins from the body,” explains Welt, who immigrated to Israel almost 15 years ago.
“The traditional Indian strips were pretty primitive – U-shaped metal or wood strips that you dragged on the tongue to scrape all the residue away. Or they were made from bamboo which Indians would chew to clean their teeth and then bend into the shape of a U in order to clean their tongues,” he adds.
“I thought the concept had tremendous potential .” says Welt, “so I thought, why not build the best tongue cleaner possible? That gave me the motivation to move forward. I’m an engineer, and have always been trying to invent and improve things – it’s part of my way of thinking.”
Weisberg, a marketing veteran who had been involved with startups after moving to Israel from the US a decade ago, ran into Welt seven years ago while consulting at an Internet company that was providing services for Welt?s company.
“We started talking about the idea of a tongue cleaner, and worked on the concept and prototype together. Eventually we founded VeriFresh and moved into it fulltime after we found a large customer for our first product in 2001,” says Weisberg.
That customer was popular American oral care company John Butler, whose GUM line of products focused on interdental brushes, toothbrushes and dental picks.
“Butler was the first large company to introduce a tongue cleaner – ours. We had approached a lot of the big companies – Colgate, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble – but they said at the time that the concept was too new. ‘Wait till it gets mainstream’ they said,” Weisberg recalls.
In today’s market, the oral care giants have finally gotten into the tongue cleaning game, but in a perfunctory manner, according to Welt and Weisberg.
“Johnson and Johnson’s Reach brand recently came out with a tongue cleaner on the back of a toothbrush, and Colgate has introduced bristles on the back of their toothbrush for cleaning tongues,” says Welt. “They’re trying to integrate the concept into existing toothbrushes – it doesn’t have the right ergonomics and can’t get to the back of the tongue because it causes a gag reflex. But they’re playing around with the concept because they know it’s going to be big.
“But what sets our patented model apart is that we have the only tongue clear with the correct shape, size and dimensions for the mouth.”
He demonstrates by placing the cleaner into a glass of water – surface tension traps the fluid in between the blades, and much in the same way, he explains, the VeriFresh tongue cleaner also traps debris, like a vacuum cleaner.
Despite its superior design and features, the partnership between VeriFresh and Butler came to an end after two years, when the larger company decided it would be more profitable to design and produce their own models of tongue cleaners.
It was a move which forced Welt and Weisberg to quickly diversify. And they did – finding distributors and partnerships throughout Europe, the Far East and in Israel.
“We were originally a small company with one product and one customer – it’s a very risky place to be in. Now were a small company with five products and a about 15 distributors. The risk is spread out more evenly now,” says Weisberg.
Mentioning their other products brightens the faces of Welt and Weisberg. “We always get stuck on the tongue cleaner and don’t move on to our other products,” Weisberg laughs. “The interesting thing about our company that we’ve carved out a nice horizontal niche in the dental field.”
New products in the VeriFresh line include a ‘Fresh Breath Kit’ that includes the tongue cleaner and its new breath gel designed to fight bad breath at its source, by removing bad-breath-causing bacteria that live on the rear of the tongue, and improves dental hygiene by removing bacteria that cause gum disease and tooth decay. But the next frontier for Verifresh is a gum massager and a flosser, two products that Welt thinks will put the company over the top.
“There’s no product out there that massages the gums. People massage their gums with their finger, and some new toothbrushes address the issue by providing elements that invigorate the gums. We’ve build a gum massager that’s ergonomically correct, flexible and easy to use,” he says.
“But perhaps our most interesting product coming out now is a flosser. The concept came – like many others – when we sat back and thought, ‘This is a good product. How can we improve it?’
“Flossing is always a pain in the neck – having to stick your fingers in your mouth and go one tooth at a time. Our flosser is mounted on a handle that can be adjusted to different angles, accommodating front and rear teeth and provides optimal tension and lateral flexibility. We’ve transformed a very tedious process of cleaning teeth with regular floss into something that’s instant and very easy.”
With all their years of exploring and developing oral care issues and products, Welt and Weisberg joke that they now know as much about the subject as a dentist.
“We can’t help it – we’ve become experts in oral care. We’ve worked closely with Hadassah Medical Center, which as been very helpful professionally giving us advice,” says Weisberg.
“We’ve learned a tremendous amount about what dental hygienists care about, and we’ve developed products to really address those concerns.”
One day the partners even hope to make something really revolutionary – a toothbrush.
“Today, if we go to a buyer and say ‘we’ve got a toothbrush’ – they’ll say thank you – next. You have to present them with unique products,” says Weisberg. “The tongue cleaner, the gum massager, and the flosser are unique – they’re going to change the way people take care of their mouths. The concepts are easily understandable, and people will see them on the shelf and go ‘I’m going to use that’.
“Then eventually, you say to the stores or distributors, ‘OK you guys are already ordering specialty products from us. We’ve also got an interesting toothbrush to offer you.’ Then they have whole line of products to choose from, and it’s much more attractive.”
While VeriFresh is poised to join Butler, Colgate and P&G as household names in the oral care market, Welt and Weisberg are patient, and plan to succeed on their own terms.
“We founded the company ourselves with our own money,” explains Welt. “We fueled our growth with sales, so the capital investment required to produce each new product is a strain for a small company like ours. But that’s the route we took.”