A Japanese toothpaste that heals cavities

 Apagard M Plus toothpaste contains anticaries Medical Nano-hydroxyapatite remineralizing agent (nano-mHAP).

The insulting tone of the following  article is amusing. What other reason than vanity could there possibly be for avoiding cavities, pain and dental bills? Perhaps people believe Apaguard toothpaste works because it does.

WOULD YOU PAY $24 FOR A TUBE OF TOOTHPASTE? The Japanese will. When Sakuma Shuji introduced Apaguard M in 1993, consumers couldn’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Three years later his firm Sangi was selling three million tubes a month at ´2,800 apiece, 10 times the price of established brands. Overnight, Sangi became Japan’s No. 2 toothpaste supplier and shook up a half-billion-dollar-a-year market that had become as stale as traditional Kabuki theater. Establishment brand Lion quickly launched its own whitening formula.

How did Sangi do it? In part, by introducing a “super-toothpaste” at a time when Japanese are looking to spend their money on non-essential (some would say frivolous) goods and services that make them feel better about themselves. Industries related to so-called self-actualization and leisure are hot growth areas in an otherwise sluggish economy. Everything from overnight daycare facilities to amusement parks to home health products are expected to grow 5.7% a year, reaching $85 billion by 2010.

Sangi is not actually a manufacturer. Rather, it takes existing materials, devises new ways to use them and then gets someone else to make the product. Back in 1974, founder Sakuma named Sangi after the “three principles of life,” as defined by the ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius: heavenly timing, earthly advantage and universal harmony.

Sakuma certainly got the timing right. He was sufficiently prescient to see commercial promise in a 1970s process that synthesizes hydroxyapatite, a chemical that gives bones and teeth much of their strength. The technique was invented by scientists at America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Sakuma bought the patent and introduced the synthetic chemical to toothpaste.

Sangi’s Apaguard M brand appeals to Japanese vanity, promising to “strengthen and repair” teeth, rather than grind them down as other products supposedly do. According to Sangi, the toothpaste fills tiny holes on the tooth’s surface caused by acidic foods and general wear. The claimed result: stronger, whiter chompers. A salvo of television commercials told viewers that “Pearl white teeth are the life of showbiz superstars.” Apparently people believed it; by last year Sangi had captured 20% of the toothpaste market.

Coming up with innovative ideas that have consumer appeal is crucial for Sangi’s survival, and Sakuma ensures that he has plenty of brainy types onboard to dream them up. He claims dozens of his researchers have at least a master’s degree, and half of the 200 employees work at one of four labs. A new product that may tap into the emerging lifestyle market: health foods with hydroxyapatite-based calcium. Given Japan’s rapidly graying population, it should be a sure seller.

— Reported by Usui Naoaki / Tokyo

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