Health & Wellbeing

Could a pill prevent cavities?

Could a pill prevent cavities?
Orally-introduced probiotics could make this a thing of the past
Orally-introduced probiotics could make this a thing of the past
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Orally-introduced probiotics could make this a thing of the past
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Orally-introduced probiotics could make this a thing of the past

You may have already heard about how the introduction of probiotic "beneficial bacteria" to the gut can aid in digestion. Now, scientists from the University of Florida are proposing doing something similar with peoples' mouths. The result could be a cavity-prevention pill.

Cavities typically form when oral bacteria cause the mouth to get too acidic. People who are resistant to tooth decay are able to neutralize that acid by breaking down urea and an amino acid known as arginine, both of which are normally present in the mouth. In particular, people who are better at breaking down arginine get fewer cavities.

According to research carried out by U Florida's Dr. Robert Burne and Dr. Marcelle Nascimento, a previously unidentified strain of Streptococcus bacteria known as A12 may be what's responsible for that arginine breakdown. In particular, A12 has been found to interfere with Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that raises acidity levels in the mouth by metabolizing sugar into lactic acid.

The scientists have sequenced the A12 genome, and now hope to use that information to screen for people who are particularly cavity-prone. When such people are identified, bioengineered A12 could then be manually introduced.

"You would implant this probiotic in a healthy child or adult who might be at risk for developing cavities," says Burne. "However many times you have to do that – once in a lifetime or once a week, the idea is that you could prevent a decline in oral health by populating the patient with natural beneficial organisms."

Source: University of Florida

4 comments
Bob Ehresman
The carries vaccine was invented in 1972 and swiftly swept under the rug by the Dental industry. Why will this be any different?
anobium
More teeth are lost due to gum disease than caries. What will the pill do to prevent this?
Christian Lassen
Having a vaccine against S. Mutans, and making that vaccine practical are different things. Yeah, the vaccine against S. Mutans has been around a while, but it doesn't work real well because trying to get antibodies into the mouth and oral cavity doesn't work real well to stop them from living on your teeth (works great for systemic infections of s. mutans, but those aren't really a problem).
This idea, that an infection/inoculation of a beneficial bacteria that interferes/competes with S Mutans and promotes oral health? That's a cool a idea! I'm all for it (and I am a dentist, no worries about a conspiracy, there isn't one, there's plenty of dentists like me who would be all for a caries vaccine, then we could focus on other things)
As for gum disease, that's another battle with a different set of chemistries, genetics, and bacteria causing the problems. They're constantly working on that one, too.
Charles Barnard
First, the bacterias which cause problems, both caries and gum disease, thrive in acidic environments. So avoid eating/drinking things which are acidic as the last thing you eat.
Bolivians on the alto plano have few dental issues. They also chew coca leaves with alkaline materials (usually fire ashes or limestone sand.) In effect, they spend the entire waking period brushing their teeth in a mildly alkaline solution with mild abrasives.
Teeth in an alkaline environment will absorb calcium ions and rebuild themselves.
For eroded teeth, I make a mouth rinse which is 1.5% hydrogen peroxide with chalk or CaCl and some flavoring. Regular use rebuilds the eroded areas and provides a hostile environment for damaging bacteria.
You are not born with these bacteria in your mouth! They arrive through family/friends kissing a child. There has been some evidence that applying the sugar substitute Xylenol to a teething child's gums can prevent these bacteria from becoming established below the gum line, once established they're difficult to eradicate as even small amounts left under the gums will easily recolonize the mouth.