Joon Kim wanted to keep his one-year-old son Talen’s teeth healthy.

He couldn’t find a cavity-fighting product that didn’t come with a “do not swallow” warning — and found mouth cleansers on the market without fluoride didn’t actually prevent tooth decay.

Joon Kim

Creator Joon Kim said Starinse is on some natural food store shelves now, but he hopes to get it in front of more consumers. (Erin Obourn/CBC News)

So, he made one himself. Starinse is the product of McMaster Innovation Park, a partnership with Dennis Cvitkovitch, member of the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, and six months of Kim working out of Williams Coffee in Hamilton.

Kim, CEO of Apollonia Health, isn’t an anti-fluoride activist, but acknowledges that a fierce debate about it exists. In Hamilton, the debate about fluoridated water is as old as the practice itself, which started here in the 1960s.

Fluoridated water is a cost-effective public health policy, but Kim doesn’t see why people shouldn’t have options.

He does not tell people not to use fluoride. But he does want people to have alternatives — ones that work.

“There are other things in natural food stores that do not have fluoride in the product, but they don’t necessarily have a Health Canada approved therapeutic claim,” he said. “We are the only one right now with that. It is a non-fluoride anti-cavity product.

“Our focus is science. Natural is great, but we want to validate it and make it more effective using natural products. That’s what our drive is.”

Peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet recently reclassified fluoride as a neurotoxin, and when consumed in raised quantities it can harm children’s IQ levels. It joins the ranks of arsenic, lead and mercury.

'People want choices'

Regardless of where people stand on that debate, Kim does see a reason to get Starinse on shelves, and has been pounding the pavement relentlessly to get it there.

It is currently available in seven natural food stores around Mississauga, Milton, Toronto and Oakville, and is available for purchase at the product website. It retails for $9.99.

Starinse’s main active ingredient is xylitol, a natural sweetener used for people with diabetes, but that also has been shown to prevent tooth decay.

“Fluoride has its place — and it’s cheap. Fluoridation of water may be the cheapest way to prevent cavities to a wide, general, population, but we will continuously have this debate,” Kim said.

Starinse tastes sweet, but unlike many children’s toothpastes, which taste like bubble gum or strawberry candy, it is safe to swallow without a warning on the package — while also having an anti-cavity Health Canada designation.

“Just because something is cheap, we have been doing it for a while and it does work — it doesn’t mean we have to continuously use fluoride as the only agent. People want choices, but it’s going to be a long road,” Kim said.

Proving that other ingredients may be as safe and effective as fluoride will take a long time, Kim says, but that doesn’t mean no one should try.

“Let’s start thinking outside just, ‘Fluoride, fluoride,’” he said.