If you didn’t see it, you should. It was inarguably the “A” story of the Dragon’s Den Season 12 premiere in late September. Jim didn’t even hesitate. He made an offer the instant the pitch was over. By the end of the segment, a team of three Dragons competed against a team of two – after Manjit pulled her initial offer. In the end, the guys from New Age Performance got what they came for and more: 100K for a seven percent royalty for seven years and the collective marketing expertise of Arlene Dickinson, Joe Mimran, and Michele Romanow. So what was the product that had all six Dragons smoking? In early October, only days after the premier episode aired on CBC, Spotlight on Business spoke with the product’s co-inventor and New Age Performance shareholder Dr. Anil Makkar and company CEO and co- owner Rob Charlton about the mouthpieces that are poised to “change the way that sports is played.”
By David MacDonald
FOR ALL YOU REGULAR READERS of Spotlight on Business, the name Dr. Anil Makkar is ringing a bell – I know it is. Back in February the magazine profiled his Truro, Nova Scotia dental practice, Victoria Court Dental. If you need a quick reminder: he’s been a practicing dentist in his hometown of Truro since 1989; he reaches out to people in need with his practice’s annual Free Dental Day; he makes it his mission to be among the first in Colchester County to infuse new technology and methods into his practice; and he’s a scrupulous man, as this quote from February’s article attests to:
“When we make an investment in technology like this, we like to see it in action first. We find an office in Canada where the equipment is already making an impact. We like to travel there and spend half a day observing how the machine is used, how it’s changing the visit for the patient and the practitioner, and really consider if it’s something that will work at our office.”
Dr. Makkar’s thoroughness – his couldn’t-be- more-honest attention to detail –stuck with me, which is why I wasn’t at all surprised to discover during our chat in October that the benefits of New Age Performance mouthpieces have been verified by studies at Ohio State, Rutgers, and the University of Connecticut.
I also wasn’t surprised to discover that Dr. Makkar, a Doctor of Dental Surgery who focuses on TMJ therapy and occlusion and who lives to learn more than 35-years after his formal education at Dalhousie University, played an active role in the research itself.
“I was very involved in the studies,” he explained. “I laid-out the parameters for the study at Rutgers, actually. My involvement with them and with Ohio State has been very interesting. They’ve concluded, among other things, that the muscular mouthpiece, which is ours, decreased the risk of injury to the ACL by six percent compared to other mouthpieces on the market – and that’s huge.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that your jaw controls your whole body, your posture, your entire range of motion.”
The Rutgers University double-blind study involved 22 collegiate and professional athletes from a wide variety of sports who were given one standard mouthpiece and one performance-enhancing mouthpiece. The research paper since released by Rutgers concluded that proper jaw alignment has a definite positive impact on athletic performance.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Dr. Makkar continued. “A lot of people don’t realize that your jaw controls your whole body, your posture, your entire range of motion. For example, the guy at the computer desk hunched over all day, that person would be perfect for our mouthpiece because it would correct their posture for the whole day. People who are on a flight, when their ears pop, if their ears can’t pop, it really hurts. Our mouthpiece equalizes the pressure in the ear so they’re not going to have that popping effect. That’s because when you put the mouthpiece in, it opens up your airway, which equalizes the pressure with your ear tube. I wear mine all the time when I’m flying and I’m relaxed. Now there are studies where mothers who are delivering babies are wearing the mouthpiece to relax them, to calm them down. The mouthpiece has a lot of applications. The reason athletes got to it first is because they will try anything to make them better. The bodybuilder, the World’s Strongest Man, the NFL player, the New Age athlete, it allows their muscles to work the way they are supposed to work.”
Brian Shaw, the World’s Strongest Man, is a “New Age athlete” and one of the stars of the Dragon’s Den segment back in September. He played the role of a human elevator for a judge who eagerly wanted to test his credentials prior to his powerlifting demonstration using the 6DS Mouthpiece. Brian’s one of dozens of professional athletes who sees themselves as empirical data.
“Brian Shaw actually saw the product on our website, ordered it, and loved it. Later, he called our office to let us know how much the product improved his performance and I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know who he was,” Dr. Makkar recalled. “I remember Furious Pete, the other co-owner with Rob, he said, ‘That’s the strongest guy in the world praising your product right now.’ It was such a great endorsement and it was just a natural move to make Brian a big part of our Dragon’s Den pitch.”
“Basically, they were shocked,” Dr. Makkar reminisced about the April taping in Toronto. “There was no better demonstration of what the alignment of your jaw can do to your body than having Brian Shaw, the World’s Strongest Man, come in and do his thing. Michelle had to be picked up by him,” he laughed.
“There was no better demonstration of what the alignment of your jaw can do to your body than having Brian Shaw, the World’s Strongest Man, come in and do his thing.”
“When we went in, it was intimidating and we were nervous – they’re the best, after all. As you start getting into your pitch though, it puts you on an automatic mode because you’re passionate about your product. I think they saw that. Joe Fresh said, ‘I love this team. You’ve got a CEO, a dentist, and a bodybuilder.’ We were proud about what we accomplished.”
Dr. Makkar’s nerves were well-justified. The product has had an unavoidable image issue from day one.
“That comes from a market place flooded with magnetic bracelets and other hocus-pocus products,” Dr. Makkar said emphatically. “Who can blame the consumer for being skeptical? That’s why we always want to get everything on the table, all the science, wherever we’re promoting the product. There’s research on the topic that dates back to 1960 and it’s all based on dentistry. People with TMJ or joint issues – these sorts of soft tissue problems – found increased range of motion with custom mouthpieces. It’s been proven.”
The initial proof was in the pudding, so to speak, for Dr. Makkar and it couldn’t have been a more Maritime recipe.
“I focus a lot on patients who experience TMJ symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and ringing in the ears. In 2009 at a cosmetic study in Las Vegas, I learned about, well I learned how to make a special orthotic that goes over the patient’s lower teeth to put them in a very comfortable bite situation. My first patient I treated with this orthotic was a lobster fisherman from Yarmouth. When he came back in he said, ‘You know, doc, I don’t have any headaches anymore but the weird thing is this: when I put those traps that weigh about 75 pounds in the water with this in, I feel like it’s effortless. But when I don’t have this in it takes all of my energy.’ I just brushed it off; my focus was reducing my patient’s symptoms. My second patient was a young mother to a six-month- old who had lots of headaches. She said one day she woke up early, headache-free, for an appointment with her baby and she still had her mouthpiece in and when she lifted him in his car seat into the car that it was practically effortless. That sparked me. I wondered if there was something there.”
That spark ignited the inaugural R&D phase of what was to become New Age Performance.
“I hired a trainer, asked him to try the bite, and after only 15 minutes he called for me to come down there,” Dr. Makkar recalled. “He was lifting more weight and he was balancing on the ball for two minutes longer than he ever did. That’s how it all started: corroboration from someone who didn’t have a horse in the race. We want full transparency with all the scientific information on the market and I think that helped us on the Dragon’s Den.” Rob Charlton, agreed.
“I think a lot of people are more receptive to a product that’s instantly demonstrable,” he matter-of- factly observed. “The Dragons were particularly receptive to the technology; they got it. You have to appreciate how the product can help you, how it could benefit everyone in their day-to- day. The Dragons saw it from that level. They were very receptive and it all started when Anil did the pen test on Joe Fresh – where you bite-down evenly on a pen and test your physical performance with a few simple challenges that you had just completed without anything between your teeth, and his balance and strength was instantly improved. His reaction was exactly the same as mine when I first tried the product,” Rob said.
Rob first tried the nascent product at a fitness trade show in the US in 2014.
“My background is in designing products for the fitness industry. When I was attending an event south of the border I came across Anil and his team selling the product and I watched them do the pen test. I found myself coming back to their booth because every person I saw who did the pen test was truly amazed. That’s when I got involved with my design company. We were able to work with Anil and take something that was essentially an orthodontic product going for $1500 and create a sleek one-size- fits- all, boil-and- bite product that retails for $29.”
For Rob, taking on the executive role wasn’t a typical business decision. It wasn’t even a “How do we make money?” decision, he explained. “When I first sat down with Anil, I said to him, ‘How do we help people feel the way I did when I tried that?’ I told him that as long as we accomplished that that everything else will fall into place. Once people wrap their heads around how powerful this is, they can’t help but use this product.”
The PGA has wrapped their heads around it. New Age Performance is banned by the Professional Golfers’ Association “because the mouthpiece speeds-up hip rotation,” Rob explained. “There are a lot of positive side effects to your body being perfectly balanced: balance, airflow, range of motion. These are all improved. So when you’re a golfer and you put that 6DS mouthpiece in, you come back five inches more than you would have before. The PGA found that translated into more contact speed. I understand there was even a letter put up in the change rooms saying not to use it. But if you’re not in the PGA it’s fine,” Rob laughed.
The 5DS and 6DS Mouthpiece as well as the 5DS Mouthguard is available at Popeye’s locations across Canada and online at newageperformance.com.
Please visit cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/new-age-performance to see the big pitch!
by David MacDonald