Scientists working on a lab

An interview with Colgate Scientists: An insight into R&D and product development

Author: Dr Sam Koh

Date:21 July 2023

I’ve personally always been fascinated by the world of research and product development. How does an idea become a new product? For instance – How do companies come up with a new toothpaste formulation? How do they know the ingredients will stay stable and do what they’re supposed to do? How do you go from an idea to a finished product that can then be sold on shelves to a consumer? How do you know what you’ve made will work? To get some insight into some of these burning questions I had, I decided to go behind the scenes and interview a couple of scientists within the Colgate Clinical Research Group at the Colgate Global Technology Center: Dr Divino Rajah and Bernal Stewart

1. How does product development start? Does someone come up with a gap in the market, or an idea? Or is there perhaps a new formula/compound developed, which you then see if you can incorporate into a toothpaste?

Colgate’s core process in R&D is centered around People Centricity. We assess what are the unmet oral health needs of our consumers around the globe and what are the largest oral health problems that everyday people face. We seek to enhance consumer experience by providing the best flavor, mouthfeel, delivery system, formula stability and quality. We include consumer testing and feedback, improving the product as a result. From there we use that as a stepping stone to assess what gaps and concerns people have. Colgate uses the vast knowledge of oral care experts, dental professionals and historical know-how to see what we can incorporate in a new toothpaste or oral care product (mouthwash, dental floss and/or toothbrushes) that meet the needs of people with oral health issues. Whether it’s sensitivity, gum issues, cavity protection, or whitening we have a technology/offering that can help alleviate those conditions. 

2. What are the steps in the R&D process? What are the general steps from idea to finished product and who is involved in the process?

New product development starts from the identification of new active ingredients, an unmet consumer need or scientific or technological advancement. At Colgate, our core process in R&D is centered around People Centricity to provide solutions to oral care conditions. Extensive preclinical testing followed by scientific studies is carried out to ensure our products are safe, efficacious and address the needs of our consumers.  Our process has several steps which include: 

Idea generation, conceptualization, bundle development, final validation and go to market.

This process involves several functional areas such as: Research and Innovation, Safety and Regulatory, Claims Support, Legal and Clinical Research. These teams co-develop products with our product development team taking into account patient preferences, dentist and hygienist inputs and state of the art preclinical science and scientific methods. 

3. Can you explain how Colgate comes up with ingredients and formulas that you then introduce into new toothpastes? What do the Colgate scientists do to ensure the ingredient is then stable, effective, safe and works like it should clinically and in the real world? Do they need to be thoroughly tested and how does that happen?

Colgate has multiple departments that focus on new active ingredients, and formulas to ensure that they are stable, safe, efficacious and consumer friendly.  These  departments are composed of scientists, dental professionals and researchers that look at future technologies and how to make them a reality for our consumers. Additionally, all of these functions abide by specific guidelines outlined by regulatory agencies and industry standards. Our team of experts conduct a series of safety, laboratory and scientific studies to ensure that our products address the needs of our customers. 

4. How does Colgate stay a market leader in oral care? What keeps Colgate apart, continuing to innovate and lead the market? 

Colgate is the market leader because we are constantly innovating and understanding the world's unmet oral care health needs. We are present in more than 200 countries and in up to 60% of all homes. Our internal teams are composed of top notch scientists, experts and clinicians in oral care globally. Externally we work with key thought leaders, cutting edge scientists and other partners. This comprehensive approach enables us to bring oral health innovations to professionals and consumers worldwide. We are always investing in the latest technologies that will take our excellent products to new heights . We hold ourselves to the highest standards.  Lastly, we apply people centricity to truly understand our consumer needs both demographically and through their life journey. 

5. How do you measure or test the efficacy of a product like a new toothpaste? eg. whitening toothpaste and how it whitens teeth

To evaluate the effectiveness of a new toothpaste we use validated and accepted testing methods. These methods will be dependent on the technology that is being evaluated and potential benefits of this new product.  For example: When it comes to tooth whitening, Colgate has in-vitro methods and also conducts in-vivo studies to evaluate stain removal and shade change. 

Thank you so much for your time Dr Divino Rajah and Bernal Stewart! Such a valuable insight into the world of Colgate R&D, and so impressive to see the amount of work, and the people behind the scenes that are required to help Colgate develop a new product. It is also great to see how Colgate continues to innovate and lead the way globally for oral healthcare products to consumers! 


Author Bio: Dr Sam Koh is a general dentist in private practice, with special interests in Cosmetic Dentistry and Orthodontics. He is the principal dentist and director of Dental Boutique Mornington. Dr Koh has been awarded with prestigious fellowships from the International Academy of DentoFacial Esthetics in New York, the Pierre Fauchard Academy in London, as well as a fellowship in Orthodontics. He is the co-founder of the Young Dentist Hub, a mentor for DentalX, and a speaker/Key Opinion Leader for several dental companies. Dr Koh is a founding member of the Colgate Advocates for Oral Health Editorial Community.