I've pretty much given up on caffeine. I started drinking coffee young, and it's been at least a decade since a normal, healthy amount of strong coffee has really affected my wakefulness level much at all. So when Power Toothpaste founder Dan Meropol asked if I'd be interested in trying his company's caffeinated toothpaste, I said "why not?"
The ad copy on Power Toothpaste's site and on the little tubes Meropol sent me said this was a toothpaste for people who "want to change the world." I have never, to my knowledge, done anything to change the world, and based on my track record it's doubtful that I ever will. Still, I didn't think that precluded me from trying it.
The idea behind caffeinated toothpaste is that a jolt delivered through the gums travels faster than through the stomach. This is also the idea behind caffeine enemas, but those are dangerous and gross, and there are limits to what I'll do for journalism.
What I didn't know until I called Meropol is that while caffeine does absorb much quicker through the gums, the "high" also doesn't last as long—which explains why I was sleepy again less than an hour after brushing with Power Toothpaste. "The caffeine isn't absorbing over time," Meropol explained, which is how it works when you drink it and it's absorbed through your stomach. So it made sense that I was tired less than an hour after brushing. Power Toothpaste is only meant as a quick jolt to take you out of your morning fog, and in that regard, it works well.
"One thing that we've seen people do is brush with Power Toothpaste right when they wake up, and they still enjoy that morning cup of coffee once they get to work," Meropol said.
Indeed, the real impetus for the creation of Power Toothpaste was less about waking up and more about giving people an incentive to take better care of their teeth. Meropol got the idea when he was lectured by his dentist for the umpteenth time about flossing more often. "I got to thinking, 'I've heard this so many times, flossing takes just minutes a day, why am I still not flossing?'" Meropol looked up some statistics, and found a study by the American Dental Association that revealed not only did Americans not floss enough, but they didn't brush enough, either.
Meropol brainstormed with a friend, Ian Nappier, who is the actual inventor of Power Toothpaste and mixed up the first batch in his kitchen. (Nappier is not currently part of Power Toothpaste, but Meropol wanted to make sure he received credit for his role in its creation.)
While caffeine does absorb much quicker through the gums, the "high" also doesn't last as long
The guys made the toothpaste without fluoride, which classifies it as a cosmetic product rather than a drug, so they can avoid all the FDA red tape. In case this sounds sketchy, I ran Power Toothpaste by my dentist (who, fun fact, was once an MMA fighter, and probably became a dentist to atone for all the teeth he knocked out in his former career), and he said the ingredients looked fine. And there is no evidence to suggest caffeine is bad for your teeth in and of itself.
The toothpaste itself has a normal consistency and tastes decent, more like one of those "natural" toothpastes like Tom's than a big brand like Crest or Colgate. I immediately felt a little refreshed after using it, but got drowsy again pretty quickly. But I'll be honest: I may or may not be a special case. After years of falling asleep in class (even after teachers made me stand up) and various tests (including an EEG), my doctors delivered the bad news—judging by some minor abnormality in my brain waves, I'm a very sleepy person. Bottom line: some days it feels like I'd need an adrenaline shot to the heart, Pulp Fiction-style, to wake up.
So I didn't think I was a fair judge of the effectiveness of Power Toothpaste, and I passed a tube to my coworker, Motherboard researcher Erik Franco. Erik avoids caffeine, and says it's "like hard drugs" to him. "I just completed brushing at my desk 10 minutes ago, so perhaps it's too early to gauge the effects," he told me after he tried it. "Actually, nope, yep, jitters already here."
So Power Toothpaste really does work (though you may want to supplement your oral hygiene with a mouthwash that does contain fluoride). Meropol has plans to launch an Indiegogo campaign January 19th, so keep an eye out—a tube of this stuff on your vanity makes you feel a tiny bit like some go-getting genius, even if you don't end up changing the world.