Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has written for major publications on topics as diverse as veterinary medicine, travel and entertainment. He started his career with The Associated Press and has held editorial positions at publications aimed at health care, sports and technology.
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Proper dental hygiene for dogs is one of the biggest challenges for pet owners. Indeed, more than 80% of dogs over age 3 display active dental disease, according to studies done by veterinarians. One company, Primal Health, is confident that its prebiotic water supplement is literally a winning solution for strengthening good bacteria in animals’ mouths while weakening harmful bacteria. The product, Protektin42, was awarded the top prize at the sixth annual VMX Pet Pitch Competition, a Shark Tank-style contest centered around innovative veterinary care ideas.
Dr. Emily Stein, a microbiologist, is the co-founder and CEO of Primal Health and the inventor of Protektin42, which is sold under the TEEF for Life brand. Most of her early career was focused on human medicine.
“I never really had experiences in pets, but it’s been such a great experience so far,” she said. “We launched our TEEF brand late in 2019, right before COVID.”
A Lightbulb Moment
The genesis behind Protektin42 came from two influential moments. Dr. Stein changed her career path about 13 years ago after her grandmother suffered a stroke following a tooth extraction. Her grandmother’s dental health deteriorated because of arthritis and a sudden inability to brush her teeth properly.
“The quality of her life changed drastically, and I hated seeing that because she was my best friend,” Dr. Stein said. “When I visited her in hospice, I took a little oral swab and took it back to California and bio-hacked it to try and find natural, safe ingredients that could block the microbes from causing any additional problems in her mouth.”
A couple of years later, Dr. Stein rescued an older cocker spaniel in Washington State, and by the time she drove back to the Bay Area, the dog wasn’t doing well, and it turned out she needed 21 teeth extracted and a lot of antibiotics to save her life.
Dr. Stein took what she learned from bio-hacking her grandmother’s sample, as well as samples from her dog and neighbors’ dogs, to address unmet needs in the canine dental space.
“We’ve been trying to fight the good fight in coming up with naturally safe consumable products for vulnerable populations in people and vulnerable populations in pets,” Stein said about Primal Health.
Taking Home the Prize
Fifty companies applied to enter the Pet Pitch Competition at the 40th annual VMX in Orlando, Florida. After the field was narrowed to three finalists, a panel of judges awarded TEEF For Life the $5,000 top prize.
The other finalists were GekkoVet International, which makes a digital diagnostic and treatment tool, and PDX Biotech, whose OraStripdx rapid test detects active periodontal disease in dogs and cats within 10 seconds.
Spreading the Care
Primal Health’s Protektin42 is a powder that pet owners add to a dog’s drinking water daily. The company also intends to develop tablets and toys with the formula built in.
“It is a daily struggle because the bacteria don’t stop causing inflammation and problems, so you really have to hit them every day,” Dr. Stein said.
“Right now, it’s just the water additive, but it’s super easy for people to use. It’s just a scoop in the water bowl each day.”
The news about Protektin42 has spread mainly by word of mouth, and the VMX prize surely helps. And with the pandemic ending, the company is attending industry events again to introduce itself to veterinarians.
“We had a great kickoff to vets in 2023 through VMX, and we hope to continue participating in subsequent shows across the country,” Dr. Stein said.
A New Way of Thinking
The TEEF for Life brand was first launched through the retail space, but Dr. Stein noticed a mismatch.
“Because we’re heavy-duty science and the mechanism of action is very unique, we’re not trying to kill microbes like most dental products; we’re actually trying to grow the good and starve the bad, and that’s a different approach,” she said.
Primal Health discovered that veterinarians are key to spreading the word about Protektin42.
“Several of them listened in on the talk I gave (at VMX), and they placed orders, which is phenomenal,” Dr. Stein said.
She is upping the interaction through seminars and lunch and learns.
“The statistics are that 80% of dogs by the age of 3 … are now showing signs of early-stage gum disease,” Dr. Stein said. “And every time your pet gets a tooth extraction, there’s transient bacteremia, which isn’t good for your pet, as the microbes can go to organs and cause problems systemically.”
Therefore, she believes that Protektin42 can help dogs live longer, healthier lives.
“Our approach also gets rid of the bad smelling, stinky molecules that bacteria secrete in the mouth, so it helps with less stinky kisses,” Dr. Stein said.
While Protektin42 is safe for cats, the company will soon launch Protektin30 to support feline oral health.
“Cats eat a lot of hard dry food and usually have some big problems,” Dr. Stein said.
The company is about halfway through the screening and validation process for an equine product, she said.
“We have a pretty interesting approach we feel for equine health,” she said. “A lot of horses get abscesses, so I think there’s a lot we can do in that space.”
Longer term, Primal Health will explore the health and wellness of livestock, giraffes and exotic animals.
“If you’re a mammal basically, you’re going to need some help eventually,” Dr. Stein said. “It’s important even for dairy and beef cows to have healthier mouths because the milk and meat will be healthier as well.”
The TEEF for Life brand puts the issue on the minds of pet owners, she said.
“The mouth truly is a gateway to the body, and by maintaining a health flora in the mouth, that extends beyond just the mouth,” she said. “Mood, behavior, pain, gut health, urinary healthy, kidney — it’s all linked. Taking better care of oral hygiene needs on a daily basis is what helps pets live longer, better lives.”