Recruiting for the War on Tooth Decay

Throughout recorded human history, we have tried to fight off the most common disease among mankind—tooth decay. The earliest known evidence was discovered in a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan. Remains that dated back to 7,000 BC included molars (back teeth) with near-perfect holes carved out of them. The method of extracting decayed or diseased tooth tissue is still practiced today, though with a more modern approach and with the addition of dental filling material to cover the hole. However, prevention is the best defense against any health issue, and experts continue to search for innovative ways to fight against tooth decay. Dr. Stephen Burds discusses new research that may change the way we look at cavity prevention.

Fighting Tooth Decay

Traditionally, the most effective way to prevent cavities has been to brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once, visit your dentist regularly, and refrain from eating too much sugar. When adhered to, this routine helps prevent the excessive formation of plaque, which is a major contributing factor to tooth decay. Plaque, which clings to the surfaces of your teeth, contains bacteria that metabolize the food and beverages you consume. When these bacteria “eat” sugars and carbs, they produce lactic acid, which attacks your teeth and weakens your tooth enamel (the protective tissue that covers your tooth’s crown). Since these bacteria inhabit your mouth, the only protection against their destructive behavior is to minimize the amount of acid they produce. Limiting their number with daily hygiene is an effective method, but researchers have discovered the possibility of inhibiting their ability to congregate, as well.

Break It Up, You Guys

This plaque-prevention discovery comes from an unlikely place, considering its application to dental hygiene; Professor Grant Burgess and his researchers, from Newcastle University’s School of Marine Science and Technology. While searching for ways to dispel microbes from the surfaces of ship hulls, Professor Burgess and his team discovered an interesting enzyme in the bacteria found on the surface of seaweed. With the help of Dr Nicholas Jakubovics and his team, from the University’s School of Dental Sciences, the researchers discovered that the enzyme exhibits impressive plaque fighting abilities.

Bacteria form plaque by creating a sticky biofilm of extracellular DNA that holds it together and protects it. The enzyme, which was isolated from the bacterium Bacillus licheniformis, has the ability to break down this external DNA, preventing the biofilm from gaining a secure foothold on your teeth. Initial experiments have proved a success, but additional tests are scheduled to ensure the enzymes effectiveness and safety.

Keep Fighting

The next step will be to incorporate the enzyme into dental hygiene products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash. Until that is possible, however, it is important that you continue your daily hygiene routing of brushing and flossing, and to visit Dr. Burds’ office at least once every six months for a dental checkup and cleaning. To schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Burds at Gateway Dental Group at (515) 244-9565. We welcome patients from River Bend, Kirkwood Glen, East Village, and neighboring communities.