Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
When I was working a thrift store job in high school, my wide customer-service smile was once met with the suggestion that I should brush my gums until they were pink. The notion that I could, and should, scrub the melanin pigment out of my mouth goes to show how unfamiliar and uncomfortable people are with different types of bodies (and how f*cking weird people are towards cashiers). We’ve come to know this in other areas––body size, hair texture, the list goes on––but gums? The oral care industry is unfashionably late to the representation conversation.
Dr. Onaedo Achebe is acutely aware of this. As a dentist, she knows firsthand how outdated and flat our understanding of our own mouths is. For a culture so currently obsessed with holistic wellness, she was alarmed by how uncritical we are of the tools we use to clean our mouths – from the questionable ingredients in each product to the wasteful packaging they come in.
So she started Minti. Launched in April 2022, Minti addresses the various qualms she had with the dental industry. The branding is cute, fun, and diverse; the ingredients are natural and sustainable; and all of the packing materials are either biodegradable, compostable, or 100% recyclable. And she’s doing it all with a small team of just one. “I keep saying ‘we,’” she laughs when describing her operations to me on the phone, “but it’s really just me.”
A cool, smart dentist who’s also a solo founder. No big deal. How does she do it? I spoke with Dr. Achebe recently and got the scoop.
Your experience as a dentist led you to create Minti. Can you tell us a bit about what gaps in the oral care industry you were looking to address?
OA: “Minti is more than a high-quality, cruelty-free oral care brand. It’s the culmination of passion, research, field-work, and the dream of something better, cleaner, and more representative.
After graduating from dental school, I did what most graduates do—landed a job in a dental practice. There, it took very little time to realize a few things:
- Oral care products generate so much plastic waste.
- Oral care branding is boring, overplayed, and unevolved.
- Representation in the world of dentistry is severely lacking. Show me the girlies with gaps and pigmented gums and all healthy deviations from the Hollywood “perfect smile.” A healthy smile is a perfect smile. I had crowded teeth growing up, and I am grateful I was able to get orthodontic care, but I also wish I did not spend so much time hating my smile and wishing I had a smile like the people in toothpaste ads. The desire for perfection and constant self-optimization makes people insecure. There are people who bleach their gums to get rid of the melanin pigment. Some people cover their smiles because of a gap, even if having one is seen as beautiful in many non-western cultures. We are moving towards more inclusion in other areas of personal care and I just felt that oral care needs to catch up!
- Oral care products contain harsh, unnecessary chemicals that negatively impact the oral microbiome. They strip all the good bacteria and get into our water system and negatively affect wildlife. I do not feel that detergents and weird dyes and harsh antibacterial agents like triclosan belong anywhere near your mouth. The mouth is the gateway to the body and we should treat it as such.
That’s where Minti began: A desire to break boundaries by shaking up the dental industry with innovative, good-for-you products that care for the planet, look beautiful on your counter, and represent everyone.”
What did it look like to make the jump from practicing dentist to DTC founder? How does one career influence the other, and vice versa?
OA: “It has been a scary but rewarding shift going from a career I spent years pursuing to being a founder. I think it will be worth it in the end, though. My goal is to take a more preventive approach to dentistry instead of waiting for the problem to happen before addressing it. With proper care, cavities and gum disease are preventable. My long term vision is to address all the factors that contribute to oral wellness. As dentists we keep telling people to floss, but rarely do we address why a patient may not be flossing, what their dietary habits are, if their oral microbiome is under constant attack by the products they use or if there is an imbalance in the bacteria load. I am so passionate about this, and that passion has steered me towards this unconventional path. It isn't always easy though. As you probably know, Black women are largely under-represented in VC funding, with only 0.34% of funding going to us. I am completely self funded at the moment but I have done so much with a limited budget and I am excited for the journey ahead.”
Minti’s commitment to sustainability and transparency is very clear. Can you talk more about your commitment to the environment?
OA: “Did you know 1 billion plastic toothbrushes, 400 million toothpaste tubes, 3 million miles of floss and 2.5 billion plastic floss dispensers end up in landfill or the ocean every year in the US alone? That's a lot of waste! Unnecessary waste. While big corporations are responsible for most of the damage to our planet, we can try to do a little bit to keep our personal impact low. There are alternatives to plastic, and my goal is to keep finding innovative ways to bring premium oral care to our bathroom shelves.
Minti believes you shouldn’t have to choose between a healthy smile and a healthy planet—they should go hand-in-hand. Which is why we use sustainable ingredients, recyclable and compostable materials, and follow strict manufacturing guidelines to keep our impact low.”
Visually speaking, Minti immediately stands out from your average oral care brand. It’s the exact opposite of the cold, clinical labels of toothpastes past. Were design and aesthetics always central to your vision for the brand?
OA: “Design plays a big role in Minti. I want you to be as excited completing your oral care routine as you are doing your 10 step skin care. Oral care is part of self care and I want it to feel that way.”
What dreams and goals do you have for Minti as you continue to grow?
OA: “My goal is to be a complete oral care system for all the care you need outside a dental office. I want to re-imagine our old ways of doing things and get rid of as much plastic as possible. I also want to apply my knowledge of microbiology and biomedical sciences as well as my training in orofacial pain and neurosensory disorders to create a brand that is more holistic and sees you as a human first. I want to help people take care of their mouths, bodies, and our beautiful planet.”
As a founder featured in our “Quality Makers” series, what does “quality” mean to you?
OA: “Quality means no compromises in ingredients, packaging or brand ethos. I want to put products out there that are good for you and this world. Products that look good and feel good and make you look good and feel good. Quality to me also means doing my part to keep this planet clean. It breaks my heart what we are doing to it!”
Looking to get mean, green, & squeaky clean? Shop Minti’s full product line here, or follow the brand on Instagram to stay updated on all their latest. If you do add to cart, send us a shelfie––and your best smile.