Oregon dentist’s products filling up more store shelves

8/17/2013
BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Dentist Steve Branam provided the idea behind Branam Oral Health Technologies and its products to stem tooth decay in children. Xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener, is used to reduce bacteria.
Dentist Steve Branam provided the idea behind Branam Oral Health Technologies and its products to stem tooth decay in children. Xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener, is used to reduce bacteria.

A young, local company that sells kid-friendly oral health-care products continues to grow, but its officers say it’s been more challenging than expected to break into the market.

Mick Janness, president of Branam Oral Health Technologies, said the company shipped its largest order to date on Wednesday and will have its products in as many as 1,300 stores this month.

“That’s a significant accomplishment. We’re proud of it, but at the same time we’ve got a lot more to get done to bring the company to the next level, where we ultimately want to be,” Mr. Janness said.

With the new stores, Branam’s toothpastes, tooth gel, and chewing gum will be in roughly 3,000 stores in all 50 states.

The idea behind the company came from pediatric dentist Dr. Steve Branam.

Dr. Branam, whose office is in Oregon, said over the last 15 years tooth decay has decreased in every age group except those 2 to 5 years of age. In that group of youngsters, it’s grown significantly.

“I almost took it personally,” Dr. Branam said recently. “This is what I do for a living, and this is where things are getting worse, not better. There has to be a better way.”

Already the holder of a patent on an alternative pacifier design aimed at reducing tooth and mouth problems, Dr. Branam looked to xylitol to develop a line of products that would reduce tooth decay in young children.

High concentrations of the naturally occurring, safe-to-ingest sweetener have been shown to reduce mouth bacteria that cause tooth decay and cavities.

Xylitol occurs naturally in many plants. Dr. Branam and Mr. Janness said their company uses xylitol from a variety of U.S. suppliers, which produce it from birch trees and corn plants.

Mr. Janness joined Dr. Branam in 2008, and Branam Oral Health Technologies began signing distribution deals in 2010.

The company was expecting sales of $3 million in 2011, but a lack of capital investment kept that from happening. Even though the company has proven revenues, many investors aren’t interested. That, Mr. Janness said, is indicative of the struggle that nontech start-ups face.

“It really makes it very challenging speaking to investors because they’re looking for that next Facebook, Twitter, Google-type investment. And those are few and far between.”

The company has received about $1 million from investors, including more than $700,000 from Rocket Ventures, a venture capital fund.

Sales are on track to reach a pace of $1 million annually by the end of this year. Officials hope to be profitable by the first quarter of 2014.

In addition to challenges over finding funding, Dr. Branam has been frustrated both as a dentist and as a businessman by the lack of a focus on prevention of tooth decay, especially in young children.

“Most dentists treat tooth decay as a condition," he said. "You come in, you have a cavity, we drill it out, we fill it, and you’re good to go. Tooth decay is a disease caused by bacteria.”

And while pediatric dentists and many physicians recommend children visit a dentist by age 1, Dr. Branam says many general dentists don’t typically see children under the age of 5. He said early dental visits and preventive measures often eliminate the need for later, more intensive work, but he struggles with getting that message out without it seeming completely self-serving.

In spite of the slow growth, Dr. Branam has no doubt in his products.

“For me, the frustration is the fact that these are good, they are effective. It’s just very difficult getting your brand out there,” he said. “Getting your name out is so just expensive and so difficult.”

Most of the stores in which Branam Oral Health Technologies products are sold are health-food-type stores, many of them locally owned. The products are in Whole Foods stores in southern California and the Northeast. The newest distribution agreement will put the company’s xylitol products in Stop & Shop grocery stores across New England.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recognizes xylitol as an effective way to help prevent cavities. Dr. Branam said a 90-day blind study on patients in his office found that his toothpaste lowered decay-causing bacteria in children’s mouths by 72 percent. Other studies of xylitol’s effectiveness have shown mixed results.

Dr. Branam said the effectiveness depends on getting the right concentration.

“You can buy all kinds of toothpaste with xylitol in it, but unless it’s properly formulated, it’s not going to be effective,” he said.

His Yum Yum Bubblegum toothpaste — the company’s top-selling product — is 33 percent xylitol by volume.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.