The sweet smell of Mel’s success

Prof. Mel Rosenberg indulges in his passion for music – ‘[Israel is] a whole country full of off the wall people.’Dr. Mel Rosenberg has a fabulous sense of humor – an absolute requirement, he will explain, for someone who specializes …

Prof. Mel Rosenberg indulges in his passion for music – ‘[Israel is] a whole country full of off the wall people.’Dr. Mel Rosenberg has a fabulous sense of humor – an absolute requirement, he will explain, for someone who specializes in bad breath and body odor.

“I’m a smell-ologist,” he told ISRAEL21c with a grin, before explaining that he will have to cut a meeting short because, “I’ve got a long line of people in my office waiting for me to sniff them.”

Though he confesses that his career choice is sometimes embarrassing for his two kids, he is sincere when he delivers his next joke, which he delivers with a straight face, “Bad breath has been very good to me.”

Rosenberg has published over 100 scientific articles, editorials, and books. He has lectured on bad breath to scientists and clinicians around the world.

Over his 20-year career, he says, “I have had the opportunity to smell the mouths of thousands of individuals in clinics and in research studies, not to mention the hundreds I have smelled surreptitiously in supermarkets, in airplanes, and in synagogue during the fast day of Yom Kippur.”

Comedy aside, there is nothing laughable about Rosenberg’s impressive accomplishments. He’s the inventor of Dentyl pH mouthwash, a best-selling mouthwash in the UK, and he is “completely convinced” that a mouthwash based on his formula will be on the shelves in North America within the next five years.

The Canadian-born Rosenberg is a professor of microbiology in the Human Microbiology Department at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and the Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University. He holds honorary appointments at the Eastman Dental Center at the University of London and the University of Rochester in the US.

Though Rosenberg has the credentials of a scientist, he has the soul of an inventor. From the time he was a young boy growing up in Ottawa, he kept a notebook for his ideas and inventions. What he considered his first real invention took place when he was 18 years old and volunteering on a kibbutz – a method for removing debris from the roots of lemon trees, that the kibbutz continued to use for many years.

At the time, he was set to return to Canada – he had a scholarship to study chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. He never used that scholarship. Enamored of life in Israel, he enrolled in chemistry BA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – and hated it. “I was not a good chemistry student.”

Changing focus, he applied and was accepted for graduate work in microbiology at Tel Aviv University “by the skin of my teeth.” He earned a master’s degree, served in the Israeli army, married and returned to TAU pursue his PhD in microbiology.

While his primary interest was oral microbiology, the scientist he admired and wanted to work under specialized in petroleum microbiology.

His doctoral work focused “the interaction of petroleum-degrading microorganisms with the oil that they grow on.” He achieved this by mixing microbial suspensions with liquid hydrocarbons and then observing the degree to which the microorganisms adhered to the oil droplets. He was then able to create conditions under which over 95% of certain microbial suspensions stuck to certain types of oil droplets.

This was where basic science met his urge to create useful inventions. Rosenberg knew he could make oral bacteria adhere to oil – and the type of bacteria that most people would like to draw away from their mouth are the kind that cause bad breath.

So he came up with a composition that was able to both remove bound bacteria and improve breath. In 1992 that technology was licensed by Ramot Ltd., the technology arm of Tel Aviv University, resulting in Assuta, the world’s first two-phase mouthwash. Assuta was featured on Israeli TV and soon became a hit, both among Israeli dentists and consumers.

Developing the mouthwash was what sent him in his unusual career direction.

“I looked at the literature and saw that there were very few researchers in the world who were working on the very common problem of body odors. I went home to my wife and said I found my gold mine – albeit a very smelly gold mine,” Rosenberg said.

Following his nose has proven to be a wise choice. Rosenberg’s work on the diagnosis and treatment of bad breath, and more recently, body odors, led to the establishment of a clinical test for oral malodor called the Halimeter. In addition to another invention called the OK-2-Kiss test, which is a ‘litmus paper’ test for bad breath risk, he has also developed Breathanol, a novel anti-malodor flavor which has been incorporated in mouthwash, chewing gum, and toothpaste. All of his work is licensed and sold through Ramot.

But Rosenberg’s big step into the international arena occurred in 1995, Philip Stemmer, a well-known London dentist, came to Tel Aviv to meet him, and was introduced to Rosenberg’s Assuta two-phase mouthwash and fell in love with it.

For months, Stemmer and his family would pack their suitcases full of Assuta and distribute to patients in the London area. After satisfying himself that the mouthwash had potential overseas,. Stemmer set up a company and licensed the technology from Ramot for the UK.

Since 1996, the British product Dentyl pH has become a leading mouthwash throughout the UK, second in sales only to Listerine. It is also sold in South Africa and a number of other European countries, and Ramot is in negotiations with major companies about potential expansion.

“I am convinced it will be a best-selling mouthwash in North America within five years,” Rosenberg says.

For Rosenberg, the fight against odor is a full-fledged calling. He has been seeing people in his clinic for more than a decade, helping them deal with embarrassing odors, and recently expanded into cyberspace with the establishment Smellwell.com, an online community for people who want to smell better. Initiated only a few months ago, he says proudly that he already has 1450 community members, who benefit from his expertise and are able to receive free samples of his new inventions.

In 1996, Rosenberg co-founded the International Society for Breath Odor Research, and currently serves as its Society’s president.

But smelling is not his only focus. A renaissance man, Rosenberg also has a real passion for music. He sings and plays saxophone, and recently released his first CD, aptly called The Aroma of You. He also writes stories for children and published a children’s book about bacteria called Bacteria Galore by Sunday at Four and recently produced a film for children The Witch and the Toothbrush.

He lives with his family in Ramat Gan and is extremely pleased with the diverse and interesting – if a bit unusual – direction that his career has taken, and particularly his choice to live in Israel.

“I feel very comfortable here. I went to Canada in 1989 for a sabbatical at the University of Toronto, among other reasons, to see if I’d made the right choice or made a mistake. After my time there, I had the feeling that while I know I could have succeeded in Canada in a narrow sense, I wouldn’t have had the richness of life,” he says.

“Look at me: I’m a university professor who plays sax and writes children’s books. In other places that would be weird, but here in Israel, no one blinks when I tell them – everyone is into a number of diverse things. This is a young crazy country where you can take chances and do things that people in Canada would consider off the wall. It’s a whole country full of off the wall people.”