Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Hailey Motooka, Ellen M. Martin
When I go to the grocery store and I stroll through the skincare section, I often find myself browsing through the products, regardless of an immediate need. The options to choose from are so diverse– do I want argan oil or moroccan oil? Something for oily skin or acne-prone skin? The skincare industry has quickly evolved to adapt to consumer demands and trends through more delightful packaging, sophisticated branding, and substituting chemicals with natural products. When I finish strolling past the skincare aisle and make my way around to the nearby aisle filled with toothbrushes, toothpastes, and mouthwashes I find myself asking the question:
What the heck happened to the oral care industry?
While there are numerous brands to choose from, they all present products with the same formula that address the same problems in variations of very similar packaging. And if you look even closer, you will see that many popular toothpastes and mouthwashes contain chemicals that are harmful to your health including triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, and fluoride.
Yes, even fluoride.
The oral industry has been dominated by big-name brands for decades…until now.
Boka was founded in 2016 by CEO James Hagen. Hagen began his professional career in finance, though his interest in the oral care industry was ignited at a young age amidst/amongst his involvement in his parents’ company: American Dental Accessories. His passion to start Boka, however, stems from his personal experience of battling an autoimmune disease as a child. Hagen, like many other autoimmune patients, became frustrated with conventional therapies after trying numerous medications with no results. Relief only came when Hagen decided to take his health into his own hands by developing habits and routines that worked for him. He implemented various lifestyle changes such as increasing amounts of sleep, exercise, and removing processed foods from his diet. He has since been asymptomatic for over a decade.
Hagen’s curiosity to discover methods (other than conventional medication) to keep his disease symptoms at bay, he stumbled across the oral microbiome and, more specifically, its relationship to the rest of the body. With new research connecting interactions in the oral cavity to systemic health and disease, Hagen found a point of intersection that merged his interests in preventative care and oral care. Boka resides at the intersection.
“In Western culture, our relationship with our mouths is more of an aesthetic relationship, largely ignoring the underlying disease that could be there”
There are two definitive aspects that set Boka apart from the larger, well-known oral care corporations. The first aspect is:
1. Ditching the chemicals
What most people don’t realize is that some chemicals are hiding in everyday oral care products. These products include popular brands of toothpaste and mouthwash that may contain harmful chemicals such as triclosan, sodium lauryl sulfate, and Diethanolamine. Over recent years, there has been increasing speculation on fluoride as the best form of “protection” for our teeth. Though there have not been any conclusive findings yet, recent scientific studies have raised concern over fluoride as a potential risk for cancer and impaired brain development ( 1, 2, 3).
2. Design is passion
There is a power to design that extends from form and function to color and language and all the details in between. Design makes life a teensy bit more interesting by adding that extra dab of glitter and sparkle. For a long time the dental market has lacked design opinion in the product development process, resulting in the monochromaticity that is the oral care aisle in the grocery store.
Through incorporated design thinking and user-input, Boka strives to add a little sparkle to bathroom sinks and dental industries alike.
The culmination of these two aspects–avoiding chemicals and incorporating design is Boka’s indubitably most notable product — the Ela Mint Toothpaste.
So what’s in Boka’s ‘Ela Mint’ toothpaste?
Their secret ingredient is nano-hydroxyapatite (n HA)– an active ingredient created by NASA. Naturally, nano-hydroxyapatite is the major component of teeth hard tissue, corresponding to 97% of the enamel. It is 100% biocompatible, making it a suitable remineralizing agent that is more effective than fluoride (8). Hagen was shocked to find that nano-hydroxyapatite has been used for the past 30 years in the Japanese markets. The popular (and already sold out) toothpaste also contains xylitol, a cavity-preventing, sugar-alcohol sweetener found naturally in fruit, vegetables, and berries. Xylitol has been found to reduce dental caries and is globally accepted as a safe natural sweetener approved by the US Food Drug and Administration as well as the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (4).
Find the toothpaste here
The toothpaste, similarly to many other products from Boka’s line, may seem foreign at first, especially with the substitution o fluoride for some NASA created space compound. For this reason, Boka has experienced slight resistance from consumers who, for years, have been using the same toothpaste brands that dentists have encouraged and approved. This is because most dentists have been trained on the basis that fluoride is the most effective way of remineralizing teeth. Boka relies heavily on dentists who are unafraid to step out of what they’ve learned in school and be open to reviewing new research. Hagen emphasizes that while he is eager to talk to more professionals, Boka has some great dentists in their corner.
“I really don’t see Boka as an oral care brand, I see it as more of a health brand”
Good oral health can translate into good overall health. Without digging into all the science, it’s pretty straightforward and the foundation upon which Boka resides. While the company continues to make progress– you can find Boka’s products on the Urban Outfitters website and, soon, in Walmart–the company continues to push for educating consumers on the importance of balancing the bacteria within the oral microbiome as opposed to eradicating all of the bacteria.
Will Boka expand to other industries beyond oral care? We hope so! Every industry can do with a bit more innovative, science-based, glitter and pizzaz and everything else Boka has to offer.
Stay tuned for our Personal Experiments post as we try out Boka’s toothpaste!
- Levy, Michael, and Bernard-Simon Leclerc. “Fluoride in Drinking Water and Osteosarcoma Incidence Rates in the Continental United States among Children and Adolescents.” Cancer Epidemiology, vol. 36, no. 2, 2012, doi:10.1016/j.canep.2011.11.008.
- Mahoney, M C, et al. “Bone Cancer Incidence Rates in New York State: Time Trends and Fluoridated Drinking Water.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 81, no. 4, 1991, pp. 475–479., doi:10.2105/ajph.81.4.475.
- Choi, Anna L., et al. “Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 120, no. 10, 2012, pp. 1362–1368., doi:10.1289/ehp.1104912.
- Nayak, Prathibha Anand, et al. “The Effect of Xylitol on Dental Caries and Oral Flora.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, 2014, p. 89., doi:10.2147/ccide.s55761.