Can you fight cavities by taking a pill?

Researches from the University of Florida have have identified a new strain of bacteria in the mouth that may keep bad bacteria in check. They believe this could lead to the development of a supplement (a probiotic) that patients could take orally to prevent cavities. While developing an effective oral probiotic will require more research, a possible candidate organism has been identified: a previously unidentified strain of Streptococcus.

To maintain a healthy mouth the oral environment must have a relatively neutral pH. When the environment in the mouth becomes more acidic, dental cavities can develop. At this point bacteria on the teeth make acid and acid dissolves the teeth. Researchers were aware that bacteria were responsible for breaking down these compounds but wanted to investigate which bacteria do this best which they found to be called A12.

The researchers wondered if a probiotic formulation could be developed from natural beneficial bacteria from humans who had a very high capacity to break down arginine. A12 has a potent ability to battle a particularly harmful kind of streptococcal bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which metabolizes sugar into lactic acid. The researchers found that A12 not only helps neutralize acid by metabolizing arginine in the mouth, it also often kills Streptococcus mutans.

If A12 doesn’t kill Streptococcus mutans, A12 interferes with Streptococcus mutans’ ability to carry out its normal processes which it uses to cause disease. The researchers collected dental plaque that grows on the surface of teeth. They characterized 54 bacteria that metabolized arginine. A12 was identified for having all the properties the researchers were looking for in a bacteria strain that could prevent cavities. The researchers hope to find more instances of A12 in a larger sample of people and to test how prevalent bacteria with similar properties are in the mouth.

This is a summary of oral presentation #0982, “Evidence-Practice Gap for Sealant Application: Results from a Dental PBRN.”

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