Enterprise: Dentist's ring of confidence may yet have rivals spitting

Bad breath is not everybody's idea of an attractive business opportunity. But a dentist and his colleagues are profiting from putting their money where their mouths are, so to speak.

In just a couple of years they have seen their hunch that the world was ready for what they call "the next generation mouth rinse" pay off handsomely. Taking on such giants as Colgate-Palmolive and Warner-Lambert, they have got their revolutionary product on to the shelves of Boots, Superdrug, Lloyds Chemists, Sainsbury and Waitrose. And so well has the product been received that sales for this year are expected to approach pounds 2m, while next year's figure is likely to double that.

Dr Philip Stemmer, a dentist with a special interest in gum disease and cosmetic treatment, who is leading the venture, points out that this has been achieved without spending a penny on advertising. Instead, he has relied on in-store promotion, the public relations expertise of one of his partners and the fact that Dentyl pH is naturally eye-catching.

Just as remarkably, this success in a highly competitive and heavily marketed sector has been gained by a company that is not really a company at all. Dr Stemmer, Sara Pearson of the PR agency The SPA Way and Michael Storfer of the accountancy firm Levy Blair employ one full-time member of staff to run their office. "Every other function is outsourced to the best in the field," explains Dr Stemmer.

Moreover, none of the three partners is taking any money out of The Fresh Breath Company. Instead, each is carrying on with his or her profession and applying most of the profits to product development.

Dr Stemmer regards Dentyl as a major breakthrough in that it tackles the cause of bad breath - the bacteria and debris that collect in the mouth - rather than masking it. He claims that one rinse is enough to provide up to 18 hours of fresh breath and, somewhat alarmingly, says it is "the only mouth rinse where you can see the evidence for yourself" - in the particles spat out with it.

But he is intent on innovating with a toothpaste that includes a mystery ingredient which manufacturers have been trying to put into oral toothpastes for years. Among the other products that are being worked on is a device for clearing the tongue of the bacteria and debris that can be a significant contributor to bad breath.

He believes that in two years he can take 5 per cent of a market that is worth about pounds 250m a year in the UK alone - and still not have to spend anything on advertising.

But it all started by accident. Dentyl pH was the result of a laboratory error in which a student added the wrong substance to a solution. The laboratory in question was run by Professor Mel Rosenberg, a world authority on bad breath. He saw the potential in the combination of natural oils and liquid that mixed when shaken up and began treating patients.

Meanwhile, Dr Stemmer was researching the field through his interest in gum disease and finding that "this guy's name kept coming up". Deciding to meet the professor, he flew to Israel and began the discussions that led to the Fresh Breath Centre in London.

While in Israel he also saw the mouthwash that Professor Rosenberg was producing in small batches and, convinced that the product removed bacteria in a way that that no other mouthwash did, he began importing it for his London clinic. Dr Stemmer was also attracted by the fact that the rinse is alcohol-free.

Ms Pearson got involved when she started work on the promotion of the Fresh Breath Clinic and urged him to get the licence to make the product in Britain and to obtain the funding to start selling it. This is where they encountered their biggest hurdle - and came up with what has turned out to be an ideal solution. Advised by Mr Storfer not to accept the first financing deal they were offered, they searched for other investors without success.

Then Mr Storfer suggested that they should put up the money themselves. He opted to become a fellow investor instead of the would-be company's auditor and, with the help of NatWest and the Government's loan-guarantee scheme, came up with enough money to get them started in September 1997.

The rest, as they say, is history.