Jordan Coffey is a UC Berkeley alumnus (class of 2020) who majored in architecture. His interest in dental care started at an early age and he began interning at dental clinics as early as middle school. In high school, Jordan participated in the UCSF School of Dentistry’s Dental Science Educational Program where he gained early exposure to both biotechnology and biochemistry. While a student at Berkeley, Coffey founded Smile With Joy, an oral healthcare company that has formulated a toothpaste that regrows tooth enamel and prevents bacterial infections that cause cavities. Better tooth protection can benefit the 92% of the US population who have or have had a cavity. Smile With Joy specifically helps women who cannot receive dental care while pregnant due to harmful X-rays. Coffey joined the CITRIS Foundry as part of the Spring 2020 cohort.
What is Smile With Joy and what motivated you to start the company?
There’s a problem with access to dental care in the United States. Over 49 million Americans live in “dental deserts,” meaning they live beyond a hundred-mile radius of a dentist. If they have a cavity, they get in the car and drive over a hundred miles to a dentist, or, even worse, they neglect the cavity entirely. I witnessed this first-hand volunteering with CDA Cares. That’s something we don’t face in major cities, but across the United States from the Appalachian Mountains to the Central Valley of California, you’ll see people line up and even sleep overnight in their cars just to gain access to dental care.
At Smile With Joy, we are alleviating the problem of access to dental care through the elevation of oral health care products. Dr. Calnon, former President of the American Dental Association, said that we are never going to drill, fill, or extract our way out of this problem.
America’s oral healthcare crisis is an access-versus-supply problem. There are not enough dentists to fulfill the disproportionate need for care let alone the lack of proximity in certain areas. The only way we can actually reach people at scale is through products.
Smile With Joy’s mission is to eradicate the chronic disease known as cavities. If you look under the guidelines of the World Health Organization, cavities are actually the world’s most pervasive chronic disease. At Smile With Joy, we are taking a public health approach and looking at how cavities are transmitted. Research shows that the bacterial infection that causes cavities are traditionally passed from mother to child by the age of two. For numerous reasons, the oral health of mothers can fluctuate during pregnancy, causing the erosion of the tooth’s enamel. This, along with a sudden change in diet, can become a breeding ground for cavities.
How has your background and experience led you to develop Smile With Joy?
I began to think critically about dental products at age 19 when I received a full-ride scholarship to study abroad at Semester at Sea. I circumnavigated the globe, mentored by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In my courses on fetal development and childbirth, I gained an in-depth understanding of this symbiotic relationship between mother and child. On one of our stops in India, I came across a plant that people used to brush their teeth. Like any good scientist, I gave it a try myself and was awed by how clean my mouth felt, especially compared to the toothpaste I used daily. I researched this plant further in my capstone project for the Population Health and Disease Prevention course. I discovered it held antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties for the oral cavity. I had never heard of the plant, nor had my dental peers at UCLA’s Summer Medical Dental Educational Program where I studied prior to Semester at Sea. Adopting the problem-based learning methodology from UCLA, I felt that my limited exposure based on academia alone didn’t permit me to think critically about how to solve the dental problem or think about how people solve the problem in other parts of the world.
It’s been over a decade of R&D and also understanding how people resolve dental issues across different parts of the globe. With Smile With Joy, I am taking the best ingredients and looking at the resources behind them, and implementing them into our product in a safe and natural way.
How is Smile With Joy different from its competitors?
As I mentioned, it’s been over a decade of trying to understand and work through oral healthcare products and working with the best in the industry to publish research. Colgate or Crest are not actually solving the problem of cavities. If that were the case, it would probably have been solved already. The potassium nitrate in Sensodyne, for example, is actually used as a pain receptor blocker. So if you have a cavity, that’s not solving the problem. That’s not rebuilding tooth enamel like Smile With Joy does.
Our product is meant to empower people to have positive oral health. People tend to be sensitive about their image, and we are creating an entirely new segment of the market by fixing the issue where it starts. Existing toothpaste companies focus on the cosmetic side.
How did the CITRIS Foundry help Smile With Joy?
CITRIS Foundry Director Maher Hakim has been very insightful. As a coach, he has given some feedback that comes from the positioning of knowing where to look. For example, the law firm we work with came from conversations at the CITRIS Foundry, which led to our first patent.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your company?
Since COVID started, we’ve created an advisory board of mothers to advise us on maternal health. I used to think I was too busy as an entrepreneur to build this type of network. Now, there are people who advocate for us within the maternal health space and are part of our extended team. As far as post-COVID, health and hygiene are taking priority for many people. Since we are a wellness-focused company for oral healthcare, it is the perfect time for us to launch a direct-to-consumer brand because the conscientiousness of the consumer is changing and evolving to their overall wellbeing. And we are here to help educate and empower our clients to share their best smile and spread joy.
The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty researchers and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners.
To learn more about CITRIS, sign up for our newsletter: bit.ly/SubscribeCITRIS