Sherri McFarland is working for a day when certain dental patients can improve their oral health with a sort of illuminated mouthguard smeared with compounds extracted from common Nova Scotia plants.

McFarland is the co-founder and CEO of Fenol Farm, a Mount Uniacke-based life sciences startup that recently won the $100,000 first prize for the Annapolis Valley area in Innovacorp’s I-3 Competition. And the aim of this young company is to use a combination of light and natural compounds extracted from plants to cure oral health problems in certain patients.

The company is developing both a medical device and a natural health product that work together to control plaque buildup on teeth. The company is beginning the process of seeking regulatory approval for the products, and hopes for a full launch in Canada in 2017.

 “We’ve got a rather aggressive business model that will not allow for a lot of sleep in the next two or three years,” McFarland joked over a coffee in Halifax on Tuesday.

McFarland and co-founder and chief technology officer Colin Cameron discovered a group of specific compounds extracted from particular plants that can be activated by light to kill certain cells. After considering a few applications for this discovery, Fenol Farm chose to develop a product that would attack biofilm that coats teeth in two groups of dental patients.

The first group is people with a high susceptibility to calculus regrowth, or HSCR. In these patients, brushing and flossing alone does not prevent plaque buildup. Such patients — estimated at 15 to 25 per cent of the population — need dental visits every three or four months to remove the tartar. The other group is people with braces, who often suffer from white spots and/or cavities because of tartar buildup around the braces.

The delivery system for the Fenol Farm product is a dental tray, like a hockey mouthguard, embedded with tiny LED lights. Three times a week, a patient smears the top and bottom of the tray with a paste made from plant extract. They turn on the lights and pop it in their mouth for about a minute. The result is a prevention of tartar buildup.

 “Hardy plants are a great place to look for a bioactive compound,” said McFarland, a chemistry professor at Acadia University. “They are able to grow in a variety of places under a wide range of conditions specifically because they contain such compounds.”

Cameron is an expert in materials chemistry and LED fabrication and will be responsible for producing the dental tray. McFarland will take care of the paste. Alex McLellan and Martin Greenwood round out the team.

They are developing the device and paste as a natural health product to be sold over-the-counter — a designation in Canada that allows faster market entry at a lower cost than with pharmaceutical drugs.

Fenol Farm is seeking regulatory approval by the end of 2015, following case and clinical studies in Canada, scheduled to begin this year. The general Canadian release is targeted for 2017, to be followed by a U.S. launch a year later.

McFarland said the team believes they will need to raise just over $3 million in equity financing to develop and launch the product in Canada and the U.S. This will likely be complemented by funding from various government programs.