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Gillette parent debuts toothpaste, brush

CINCINNATI -- Focusing more on the hazards of yucky-looking plaque than the sex appeal of a white smile, Procter & Gamble Co. has launched a toothpaste 10 years in development, and a low-cost, rechargeable power toothbrush -- the first new Oral-B product since that brand was acquired in the Gillette Co. merger.

National advertising blitzes this month are backing the products, with ads depicting dental specialists in ties and lab coats reporting their effectiveness in fighting gum disease and other mouth problems.

A television commercial for Oral-B's Vitality power toothbrushes depicts a close-up of ``acid-producing, enamel-eating bugs." Ads for Crest's Pro-Health toothpaste list benefits in battling gingivitis, plaque, tartar and cavities, besides the usual whitening and freshening claims.

``Sex sells with the younger population, but I think people are becoming more educated, more aware that they need to take care of their teeth," said Nancy Rosen, a New York cosmetic and restorative dentist who has been a consultant for Oral-B. ``We're spending more time at the dentist as we get older."

Dental authorities say the vast majority of Americans have some form of gum disease or cavities, particularly older adults. The science-based pitch aims at ``consumers who are information seekers, who are pretty involved with their oral health," said Diane Dietz, P&G's North America general manager for oral care. ``People want beauty, and they want health."

Rosen and other dentists agree that power brushes are much more effective at cleaning than manual brushing. However, P&G says more than 80 percent of Americans still brush by hand, a figure that has been steady in recent years.

The Vitality line, with oscillating-rotating brushes or sonic technology that have thousands-more-per-minute cleaning movements than manual brushes, has a suggested retail price of $19.99, down more than $100 from some rechargeable brushes on the market.

Gary Cohen, global vice president for Oral-B, said the lower price and the extensive marketing efforts for Vitality are examples of the benefits of P&G's $57 billion acquisition of Gillette last year, combining two consumer products giants. He said other Oral-B products being developed ``will take advantage of the company's scale."

P&G and Colgate-Palmolive Co. have long dominated the US toothpaste market, and each has a little more than one-third of the $1 billion-plus market. New York-based Colgate-Palmolive, when reporting second-quarter earnings last month, said oral care sales grew 12 percent worldwide, with Colgate leading the US toothpaste market.

Colgate-Palmolive didn't offer a reaction yesterday to P&G's launches.

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