UFCD research suggests that a type of “helpful” bacteria may provide a new way to prevent caries. Dental caries result from a combination of factors—all of which involve bacteria that feed on nutrients such as sugar and create tooth-eroding acid as a by-product. A healthy mouth requires a relatively neutral chemical milieu; a pH of around 7. When the oral environment becomes more acidic—such as from Streptococcus mutans-producing acid—dental cavities or other disorders can develop.
UFCD scientists Robert Burne, Ph.D., and Marcelle Nascimento, D.D.S., Ph.D., took a chemistry-based approach to search for beneficial bacteria that might neutralize acid and avert cavity-based damage. They cultured more than 2,000 bacteria from dental plaque samples and narrowed down the list to 54 microbes that had the necessary metabolic properties to reduce acid. Of those, the researchers closed in on a different member of the Streptococcus bacteria family called “A12.”
They learned that A12 breaks down natural molecules in the mouth and creates ammoni as a by-product, which neutralizes acid and that it directly attacks and kills the harmful Streptococcus mutans.
The findings suggest that invoking competition among bacterial types in the mouth may prevent cavities from forming by both blunting acid production and allowing bacterial competition to even out bacterial communities. Nascimento and Burne hope to turn their discovery into a tool to screen for people who are at a higher risk for developing cavities, and possibly develop a dietary supplement containing helpful bacteria such as A12.