Israel Kleinberg believes he’s found a weapon that will help the teeth of a child for whom sweets are both a reward and an evening entitlement. The distinguished professor and director of the Division of Translational Oral Biology at Stony Brook has developed a way to tip the scales in favor of the healthy bacteria in the mouth, while making life harder for the bacteria that eats sugars and produces acids that wear away minerals on teeth.
Kleinberg, who has been at Stony Brook for 41 years and is the founding chairman of the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology, discovered that the amino acid arginine, which is present in saliva, reduces acid in the mouth.
At the same time, he searched for a way to rebuild the calcium lost from the acid-producing bacteria. He combined these two ingredients into a product called BasicBites that is available on the Internet.
With two of these small, square chews a day, children can use their body’s own good bacteria to win the battle for teeth health, Kleinberg said.
Mitchell Goldberg, president of Ortek Therapeutics, a Roslyn-based company that is marketing and selling these chews, described the product as “prebiotic,” because it neither kills bacteria like an antibiotic, nor introduces additional bacteria, like a probiotic.
Kleinberg has distinguished himself at Stony Brook in translational research, Maria Ryan, the chair of the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology said.
Indeed, when he first arrived at Stony Brook, Kleinberg worked with Sen. Ken LaValle to create the patent policies for the entire SUNY system, which would help in the discovery of therapies outside the realm of his own research, including Reopro and Xiaflex, according to Ryan, who has known Kleinberg for about three decades.
Earlier this summer in South Africa, Kleinberg received the International Association for Dental Research Distinguished Scientist Award in Research in Dental Caries.
“This is one of the highest honors bestowed by the association to stimulate and recognize outstanding and innovative achievements that have contributed to the basic understanding of the causes and/or prevention of dental caries, commonly known as decay or cavities,” said Ryan. The award is “well-deserved recognition of his work.”
As for his latest creation, Kleinberg, an 84-year-old professor who continues to work five days per week, said BasicBites raise the pH in the mouth. A higher pH is considered more basic, while a lower pH is acidic.
Kleinberg recommends eating these chews slowly and gently twice a day, once before bed and once after breakfast. He suggests spreading it around the teeth with the tongue to push it into areas where cavities might otherwise form. “We picked vulnerable times based on people’s habits, especially kids,” he said.
When people go to bed, their saliva production drops. With less saliva, the bacteria that are getting fed, especially after meals that include carbohydrates and often conclude with sugars, are the acid-producing ones.
The BasicBites, which are chocolate flavored even though they don’t contain actual chocolate, make it tough for the acid-producing bacteria to eat the food leftovers stuck to or around the teeth.
“It’ll give you an extra weapon and an easy thing for you to do,” Kleinberg said. The BasicBites “are part of a program we have where we’re tackling different microflora,” he said.
In the morning after breakfast, the BasicBites, which are manufactured in North Carolina, can help maintain a higher pH for several hours, which means children will only need two a day. If a child has too many of these teeth-protecting chews, Kleinberg said he or she may get diarrhea.
A resident of Smithtown, Kleinberg has been married for 59 years to Constance. The couple have four children and eight grandchildren. Kleinberg shows no signs of slowing down.
“When people know my age, they say, ‘Are you retired?’” Kleinberg laughs. He said he asks them what they do in retirement and they say they do what pleases them. “I happen to be doing stuff that I’m crazy about,” he said.
Kleinberg’s chairman Ryan described him as a “committed academician” who is “extremely productive with his ongoing research.”
Ryan said her 9-year-old son Peter is a big fan of BasicBites and their inventor. Her son “insists on stopping in to Dr. Kleinberg’s office to try his latest flavor of BasicBites.”