By Allison Kaplan Sommer Israel21c November 27, 2005
Dr. Mel Rosenberg has a fabulous sense of humor – an absolute requirement,
he will explain, for someone who specializes in bad breath and body odor.
“I’m a smell-ologist,” he told ISRAEL21c with a grin, before explaining
that he will have to cut a meeting short because, “I’ve got a long line of
people in my office waiting for me to sniff them.”
Though he confesses that his career choice is sometimes embarrassing for his
two kids, he is sincere when he delivers his next joke, which he delivers
with a straight face, “Bad breath has been very good to me.”
Rosenberg has published over 100 scientific articles, editorials, and books.
He has lectured on bad breath to scientists and clinicians around the world.
Over his 20-year career, he says, “I have had the opportunity to smell the
mouths of thousands of individuals in clinics and in research studies, not to
mention the hundreds I have smelled surreptitiously in supermarkets, in
airplanes, and in synagogue during the fast day of Yom Kippur.”
Comedy aside, there is nothing laughable about Rosenberg’s impressive
accomplishments. He’s the inventor of Dentyl pH mouthwash, a best-selling mouthwash
in the UK, and he is “completely convinced” that a mouthwash based on his
formula will be on the shelves in North America within the next five years.
The Canadian-born Rosenberg is a professor of microbiology in the Human
Microbiology Department at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and
the Maurice and Gabriela Goldschleger School of Medicine, Tel Aviv
University. He holds honorary appointments at the Eastman Dental Center at the
University of London and the University of Rochester in the US.
Though Rosenberg has the credentials of a scientist, he has the soul of an
inventor. From the time he was a young boy growing up in Ottawa, he kept a
notebook for his ideas and inventions. What he considered his first real
invention took place when he was 18 years old and volunteering on a kibbutz – a
method for removing debris from the roots of lemon trees, that the kibbutz
continued to use for many years.
At the time, he was set to return to Canada – he had a scholarship to study
chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. He never used that
scholarship. Enamored of life in Israel, he enrolled in chemistry BA at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem – and hated it. “I was not a good chemistry student.”
Changing focus, he applied and was accepted for graduate work in
microbiology at Tel Aviv University “by the skin of my teeth.” He earned a master’s
degree, served in the Israeli army, married and returned to TAU pursue his PhD
While his primary interest was oral microbiology, the scientist he admired
and wanted to work under specialized in petroleum microbiology.
His doctoral work focused “the interaction of petroleum-degrading
microorganisms with the oil that they grow on.” He achieved this by mixing microbial
suspensions with liquid hydrocarbons and then observing the degree to which
the microorganisms adhered to the oil droplets. He was then able to create
conditions under which over 95% of certain microbial suspensions stuck to certain
types of oil droplets.
This was where basic science met his urge to create useful inventions.
Rosenberg knew he could make oral bacteria adhere to oil – and the type of
bacteria that most people would like to draw away from their mouth are the kind that
cause bad breath.
So he came up with a composition that was able to both remove bound bacteria
and improve breath. In 1992 that technology was licensed by Ramot Ltd., the
technology arm of Tel Aviv University, resulting in Assuta, the world’s first
two-phase mouthwash. Assuta was featured on Israeli TV and soon became a
hit, both among Israeli dentists and consumers.
Developing the mouthwash was what sent him in his unusual career direction.
“I looked at the literature and saw that there were very few researchers in
the world who were working on the very common problem of body odors. I went
home to my wife and said I found my gold mine – albeit a very smelly gold
mine,” Rosenberg said.
Following his nose has proven to be a wise choice. Rosenberg’s work on the
diagnosis and treatment of bad breath, and more recently, body odors, led to
the establishment of a clinical test for oral malodor called the Halimeter.
In addition to another invention called the OK-2-Kiss test, which is a ‘litmus
paper’ test for bad breath risk, he has also developed Breathanol, a novel
anti-malodor flavor which has been incorporated in mouthwash, chewing gum, and
toothpaste. All of his work is licensed and sold through Ramot.
But Rosenberg’s big step into the international arena occurred in 1995,
Philip Stemmer, a well-known London dentist, came to Tel Aviv to meet him, and
was introduced to Rosenberg’s Assuta two-phase mouthwash and fell in love with
For months, Stemmer and his family would pack their suitcases full of Assuta
and distribute to patients in the London area. After satisfying himself
that the mouthwash had potential overseas,. Stemmer set up a company and
licensed the technology from Ramot for the UK.
Since 1996, the British product Dentyl pH has become a leading mouthwash
throughout the UK, second in sales only to Listerine. It is also sold in South
Africa and a number of other European countries, and Ramot is in negotiations
with major companies about potential expansion.
“I am convinced it will be a best-selling mouthwash in North America within
five years,” Rosenberg says.
For Rosenberg, the fight against odor is a full-fledged calling. He has been
seeing people in his clinic for more than a decade, helping them deal with
embarrassing odors, and recently expanded into cyberspace with the
establishment Smellwell.com, an online community for people who want to smell better.
Initiated only a few months ago, he says proudly that he already has 1450
community members, who benefit from his expertise and are able to receive free
samples of his new inventions.
In 1996, Rosenberg co-founded the International Society for Breath Odor
Research, and currently serves as its Society’s president.
But smelling is not his only focus. A renaissance man, Rosenberg also has a
real passion for music. He sings and plays saxophone, and recently released
his first CD, aptly called The Aroma of You. He also writes stories for
children and published a children’s book about bacteria called Bacteria Galore by
Sunday at Four and recently produced a film for children The Witch and the
He lives with his family in Ramat Gan and is extremely pleased with the
diverse and interesting – if a bit unusual – direction that his career has taken,
and particularly his choice to live in Israel.
“I feel very comfortable here. I went to Canada in 1989 for a sabbatical at
the University of Toronto, among other reasons, to see if I’d made the right
choice or made a mistake. After my time there, I had the feeling that while I
know I could have succeeded in Canada in a narrow sense, I wouldn’t have
had the richness of life,” he says.
“Look at me: I’m a university professor who plays sax and writes children’s
books. In other places that would be weird, but here in Israel, no one blinks
when I tell them – everyone is into a number of diverse things. This is a
young crazy country where you can take chances and do things that people in
Canada would consider off the wall. It’s a whole country full of off the wall