Posted by Stefan Gafner, Director of Analytical Chemistry
I grew up in the Emmental, a rural area in Switzerland known for its cheese (or mostly because of the holes in there) and the number of cows per square meter. Having always had a keen interest in plants, I spent a lot of time hiking in the surrounding area, and later in the Alps, accompanied by my plant identification book. Not quite sure how to make a living out of this, I went to Pharmacy school and received my B.S. from the College Pharmacy at the University of Bern. I then went on to study medicinal plants from Guinea and Zimbabwe during my Ph.D. at the University of Lausanne. I joined the Tom’s team in 1999, where I currently hold the position of Director of Analytical Chemistry. This seems to be a pretty good way to make a living out of my interest in plants!
We decided to make our Wicked Fresh! Toothpaste for our consumers who wanted a natural toothpaste that delivered long lasting fresh breath. Some products use synthetic compounds or ingredients that kill germs, but that does not fit with our Stewardship Model for ingredient selection. These are sometimes combined with natural essential oils (thymol, eucalyptus oil, and mint) that either inhibit the growth of bad-breath causing germs, or “cover” the odor with their distinct smell.
So why licorice root extract? The earliest evidence of the medicinal use of licorice comes from samples found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, including the tomb of King Tut (1343-1325 B.C.). Our interest in licorice root started a little more recently than that, when our research team screened a number of botanicals for breath freshening antimicrobial activities. The bacteria in your mouth may produce volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs). VSCs are foul smelling, and are known to be responsible for the odor we recognize as “bad breath”. We tested the extract in our laboratory models for breath freshening activities using our own saliva with good results. The licorice extract has been combined with ingredients like the natural oils of mint and other aromatic plants, in our Wicked Fresh! toothpaste – a product that is clinically proven to provide long-lasting fresh breath.
One of the great things about working with plants is their ability to provide solutions to our needs really do seem endless. In fact, the research team has discovered a number of other possible applications of the licorice extract. We are also interested in hearing from you! In our quest “to serve our customers’ health needs with imaginative science from plants and minerals”, what products would you like to see us make?