Meet 2019 NIHF Inductees Joseph Muhler and William Nebergall!
Joseph Muhler and William Nebergall are credited with developing the first cavity-fighting toothpaste with stannous fluoride — Crest® toothpaste.
By discovering stannous fluoride to be effective in hardening tooth enamel and protecting it from acid, this team made a lasting contribution to American health at a time when dental disease was persistent, and Americans were developing an estimated 700 million cavities a year.
Joseph Muhler began studying fluoride as a student at Indiana University in the early 1940s, at the suggestion of his biochemistry professor, Harry Day. The idea of using fluoride in toothpaste surfaced around that time as research revealed that fluoride ions made tooth enamel harder and more resistant to dental cavities. Muhler researched more than 150 fluoride compounds before establishing stannous fluoride as the most effective for oral health.
In 1949, Procter & Gamble took an interest in Muhler’s research and decided to fund further exploration of fluoride. A year later, chemistry professor William Nebergall joined the project to focus on the inorganic chemistry aspects of the research.
Nebergall made a crucial contribution to the team’s efforts when he baked a sample of toothpaste abrasive with high-purity stannous fluoride in a laboratory oven. This sample ultimately led to the development of Crest toothpaste.
A clinical study of Muhler and Nebergall’s toothpaste demonstrated that children ages six to 16 showed an average 49 percent reduction in cavities. Adults also showed tooth decay reduction to almost the same degree.
After this successful study, Muhler and Nebergall worked with Procter & Gamble to launch Crest toothpaste in test markets in 1955, and nationally in 1956. The national launch was introduced with the headline “Look, Mom — no cavities!” in a famous marketing campaign that featured illustrations by Norman Rockwell.
In 1960, Crest became the first toothpaste to earn the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. Within two years of this distinction, Crest’s sales nearly tripled as it became the best-selling toothpaste in the United States.
Royalties from Crest helped establish the Oral Health Research Institute (OHRI) at Indiana University’s School of Dentistry. Opened in 1968, OHRI has been called the “House that Crest Built” and is a world-renowned product-testing site.
In 1976, 20 years after Crest’s national launch, the American Chemical Society recognized stannous fluoride toothpaste as one of the 100 greatest discoveries of the previous 100 years.
The impact of Muhler and Nebergall’s stannous fluoride toothpaste continues today. While 40 years ago more than half of American kids had one or more untreated cavities, that number is now less than 25 percent.
Muhler and Nebergall will join the ranks of other global innovators in the National Inventors Hall of Fame during the 2019 Induction Ceremony on May 2.