Cavity Fighting Bacteria

We've all been taught that the way to prevent cavities is to brush, floss, and visit the dentist regularly. Researchers at the University of Florida have taken a different approach to fighting tooth decay. They have altered the bacterium Streptococcus mutans, which is known to cause tooth decay, so that it is no longer harmful to teeth.

The leading researcher in the study, dentist J. D. Hillman, accomplished this task by stripping the bacterium of its ability to produce lactic acid. It is this byproduct of the breakdown of sugar by Streptococcus mutans that causes tooth decay. If the bacteria are not able to produce lactic acid tooth decay is stopped.

As many as 500 different species of bacteria inhabit your mouth and can colonize on your teeth and gums. When you eat a meal bacteria help to digest the food and sugar left on your teeth and gums. In the process lactic acid is produced which breaks down tooth enamel and leads to cavitiesStreptococcus mutans has been found to be the most cariogenic (promotes tooth decay) of these bacteria.

Streptococcus mutans. Image courtesy of Fusa
o Ota, University of Tokushima, Japan.

The genetically altered strain of Streptococcus mutans appeared to thrive on sugar. It was tested on rats with positive results. Researchers introduced a solution containing the bacterial strain into the oral cavity of rats. The rats were fed a high sugar diet and showed no evidence of tooth decay. Researchers found that the strain was able to stay on the surface of the teeth indefinitely and prevented the natural strain from colonizing on the teeth. The altered strain is genetically stable and no ill effects have been noted.

Hillman is hopeful that human trials will begin this year. These trials will attempt to determine the number of applications needed to prevent tooth decay permanently. Researchers warn that this does not mean that you can get rid of your tooth brush. Brushing and other forms of dental hygiene would still be recommended to prevent plaque build-up.



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