Hi! My name is Catherine Billings and I’m the summer intern at TEEF! I’ve been working here for about a month and a half and I have been blown away by the science behind this product and by how committed the TEEF! team is to revolutionizing oral health. This week I sat down with the TEEF! founder, Dr. Emily Stein, to learn more about what inspired her to make this product and to break down the importance of a healthy mouth.
Emily and I started by talking about who she is and discussed her background as a scientist. I was surprised to learn that her interest in science was sparked in the very same way mine was by watching nature shows with her dad! I have vivid memories of watching all sorts of shows on animals and environments all over the world and it’s amazing that those same memories have inspired Dr. Stein to pursue a career in science. Emily’s love of science continued in college and has carried her all over the country. She received her undergraduate from the University of Iowa and joked about how while her peers were out on the town on Friday nights, she spent her time in a tuberculosis lab! Emily fell in love with microbiology and biochemistry at Iowa and had a deep passion for “how such small organisms can manipulate the human body.” This is where Emily’s journey gets particularly impressive and I am still blown away that people can be as smart as she is! After she received her undergraduate degree, she then studied at the University of California, Berkeley for 6 years and then decided to go to Stanford (Yes, that’s Stanford) to study immunology and rheumatology. Emily’s family has a history of autoimmune disease, so I found this particularly impressive that she wanted to learn about diseases and bacteria that have affected her family personally.
If there is one thing that was made clear from our conversation, it’s that Emily’s family has been the center of her passion since day one. During her time at Stanford, Emily’s grandmother was living in a care facility and after having had multiple tooth extractions, she suffered from a major stroke. Emily believes the neglect of her grandmother’s dental health played a significant role in her eventual stroke. This sparked Emily’s interest in oral health and she flew to Wisconsin to try and help her grandmother. Emily wanted to create a formula that wouldn’t interfere with her grandmother’s medications and would “talk to the bacteria in her mouth.” The formula’s goal would be to effectively balance her oral ecology and promote healthy bacteria all over the body. She ended up creating mints for her grandmother to consume after every meal. This wasn’t the end of dental troubles for Emily’s loved ones, however. After creating the mints for her grandmother, Emily adopted a senior rescue dog named Tinzley. She had to pick up Tinzley in Washington and Emily said that her breath was so bad that “the windows needed to be down almost the entire ride home.” Tinzley’s oral problems went much further than just smelly breath though. Her teeth were quite literally rotting while still in her mouth which lead to infections all over her body. After 21 tooth extractions and a lot TLC, Tinzley finally recovered but Emily again realized just how important dental health is for all living things. She got to thinking about the mints she made for her grandmother and wondered if she could repurpose the ingredients for dogs. After years of research and countless swabs from dogs’ mouths, she successfully created TEEF!
I’ve been so impressed with Emily’s commitment to honest and effective science. Almost all other products on the market for dogs’ mouths actually cause more issues than they help. Starch is a primary ingredient in the majority of products and as Emily explained to me, starch is a bacteria’s sugar dream. Sugar digestion by bacteria actually causes large amounts of inflammation and brushing and flossing won’t be enough to counteract this because the diseases caused by this inflammation all start below the gum line. One of the scariest diseases Emily and I discussed is one that is common, I had no idea just how dangerous it was: Gum disease. Gum disease is a silent killer and it’s all because of one especially nasty bacteria, Porphyomonas gingivalis. These bacteria have been linked to several cancers and even Alzheimer’s and what’s really scary is that these bacteria are found in almost everyone’s mouth. Porphyomonas gingivalis thrives in sugar-rich environments as it eats the byproducts of bacteria that eat sugar, which is why limiting sugar from gum tissue is so important to Emily.
Emily’s biggest goal for this product is to “shut sugar off worldwide and curb the disease-causing processes that bacteria are creating.” Her career as a scientist and entrepreneur have given her a tough skin and a serious drive to bridge dental health with all other forms of medicine. Emily told me about how the medical field is “very siloed and there isn’t a lot of communication between dentists and doctors when it comes to just how important oral health is to the entire body.” Emily wants to be the one to get everyone talking about how important oral health is in humans, dogs, and really all organisms with a mouth. When you live with any organisms for a period of time, you’ll start to share the same bacteria as them. Think about it! When you kiss your partner or even when your dog kisses you, bacteria are being passed back and forth orally. Emily’s mission is to ensure that whatever bacteria you share is as harmless as can be and to give you and the pets close to you the healthiest mouth and body possible.
The biggest take-away I took from our conversation was that everything you put into your body or your pet’s body passes through the mouth. If your mouth isn’t healthy, why would anywhere else in your body be working the best it can be? Full body health all starts with the mouth and begins below the gum line. Your body operates through processes and if the mouth is the first process for your body’s operations, make it as healthy of a process as it can be!