Oral Probiotics: Fighting Bacteria with Bacteria

Oral Probiotics: Fighting Bacteria with Bacteria

By Shinji Tutoru

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, FL, USA. Dental researchers at the University of Florida, have discovered a microbe that may serve as oral probiotics for teeth. These “good bacteria” aka probiotics may allow the mouth to protect itself naturally from cavities and tooth decay.

Searching For Oral Probiotics

The two researchers who carried out this study are Marcelle Nascimento and Robert Burne. The process of looking for bacteria that would serve as an oral probiotic was not easy. Kids aged two to seven years old were selected to be the study group for the investigation. Some of these kids had no cavities while others had many. Researchers used cotton swabs to obtain sample bacteria from inside their mouths. The team then tested the different bacteria recovered to discover the ones that could help fight tooth decay. The most capable strain of bacteria came from a child with healthy teeth. The said bacterium was named “A12” which had all the properties that deemed it worthy of being an oral probiotic.

The Silent Oral Probiotic Killer: Acid

Acid eats away at the tooth enamel, which is the hard protective outer coating of teeth. With acid buildup in the mouth, tooth decay can develop. Acidic foods such as citrus fruits can increase some of the acid but most is made by an oral bacterium called Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans). S. mutans feeds on sugar and produces lactic acid. So, when more sugar is present in the mouth, S. mutans will be able to grow and flourish. Hence, more lactic acid will be produced. Since good bacteria cannot survive in acidic environments, S. mutans is not challenged by any other ‘mouth guest’ and sticks around to cause cavities and tooth decay.

The Superpowers of A12

A12 has three special powers that help it fight the nasty S. mutans. First, A12 makes hydrogen peroxide, a chemical weapon that kills S. mutans. Yes, hydrogen peroxide- the same stuff we use to disinfect wounds! Hydrogen peroxide is highly reactive and can kill most germs. Second, A12 prevents S. mutans from making biofilms. Biofilms help microorganisms stick to surfaces. In the mouth, the plaque that builds up on teeth when a person forgets to brush is actually a biofilm made by bacteria. Bacteria in the biofilm must communicate via chemical messages to maintain the structure of their sticky home. A12 interrupts these messages cutting off all communication between bacteria in the biofilm. Third and lastly, A12 produces a chemical compound called ammonia. Ammonia makes the mouth less acidic by neutralizing the acid that could damage teeth.

Will Oral Probiotics Land In Our Mouths Anytime Soon?

A12 is an early discovery and is not yet available, as explained by Dwayne Lunsford, the director of the microbiology program at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Maryland which helped fund this study. Lunsford also mentioned that probiotics will eventually become common and will be added to existing products that people already use such as gum, mouthwash or toothpaste. The challenge is to ensure that the bacteria stay alive to colonize the mouth and fight S. mutans.

This is not the only study that is working to improve oral health. Antibacterial 3D printed teeth, for example, is another breakthrough in the world of dentistry. And for those who have already lost some teeth, no worries as you might be able to grow some new ones soon!

In the mean time, stay protected from tooth decay and cavities by brushing and flossing and maintaining healthy oral hygiene.

References:

Newly discovered microbe keeps teeth healthy

Fighting cavities could one day be as easy as taking a pill, research shows

Image courtesy of pixabay.com.

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