Licking lollipops to prevent cavities now that's having the hair of the dog that bit you.
Not according to Wenyuan Shi.
The UCLA microbiologist has been researching Chinese herbs for several years and located a compound that fights cavities and is now in a sugar-free lollipop on the market.
"It's always been my dream to use one of the things that causes the problem to treat it," said Shi, a professor at UCLA's dental and medical schools who formed C3 Jian Inc. to commercialize his research.
The active ingredient in the lollipop is an extract of Chinese licorice root that has been shown in the laboratory to kill the major organisms that trigger tooth decay.
Los Angeles-based C3 Jian doesn't make the cavity-fighting candy itself. That's done by Grand Rapid, Mich.-based herbal candy company Dr. John's Candies, which is supplied the extract by C3 Jian.
Here's Shi's prescription: slowly suck one lollipop each morning and evening for 10 consecutive days. Repeat two to four times a year, depending on past cavity history. A pack of 20 suckers goes for $10 on the Dr. John's Web site; retail distribution agreements are in the works. Orange, so far, is the only flavor.
Shi attracted initial financing from the Washington state affiliate of dental health benefit provider Delta Dental Plans Association after approaching the company and meeting Max Anderson, a dentist and executive there.
At the time, several years ago, Shi was looking for funding to develop a diagnostic test for tooth decay, but Anderson wasn't immediately impressed.
"I asked him the so-what question," said Anderson, pointing out that such a test had little value unless there was a therapeutic to treat it. "He said, 'Give me $500,000 and I will develop one for you.' "
Anderson was impressed enough with the result the development of an anti-microbial technology that ultimately resulted in the anti-cavity lollipop and has other applications that he joined Shi's company, where he is president and chairman.
The lollipop hit the market last year after Shi worked out a licensing agreement with Dr. John's Candies. Aside from supplying the herbal extract, C3 Jian provides technical assistance and testing services to the candy company.
C3 Jian has since attracted other Delta Dental and other angel investors, and has a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It plans to prove the lollipop's cavity-fighting claims by conducting clinical tests that will be published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
And C3 Jian is just getting started. Shi's research has isolated other compounds in Chinese herbs with commercial applications including one that targets the bacteria in human sweat that produce body odor.