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Dental Health
Oral Health

An Anti-Cavity Supplement?

An anti-cavity supplement may be closer than you think. University of Florida Health researchers have identified a new strain of bacteria in the mouth that may keep bad bacteria in check — and could lead to a way to prevent cavities using probiotics.

And that could lead to the development of an oral supplement.

While developing an effective oral probiotic will require more research, a possible candidate organism has been identified: a previously unidentified strain of Streptococcus, currently called A12. Robert Burne, Ph.D., associate dean for research and chair of the UF College of Dentistry’s department of oral biology, and Marcelle Nascimento, D.D.S., Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Dentistry’s department of restorative dental sciences, published the findings in late January in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

To maintain a healthy mouth, the oral environment must have a relatively neutral chemical makeup, or a neutral pH. When the environment in the mouth becomes more acidic, dental cavities or other disorders can develop, according to Burne.

“At that point, bacteria on the teeth make acid and acid dissolves the teeth. It’s straightforward chemistry,” Burne said. “We got interested in what activities keep the pH elevated.”

Previous research by Burne, Nascimento and others found two main compounds that are broken down into ammonia, which helps neutralize acid in the mouth. These compounds are urea, which everyone secretes in the mouth, and arginine, an amino acid. Burne and Nascimento had also previously found that both adults and children with few or no cavities were better at breaking down arginine than people with cavities. Researchers knew bacteria were responsible for breaking down these compounds but needed to investigate which bacteria do this best, and how this inhibits cavities. Part of the answer is A12.

“Like a probiotic approach to the gut to promote health, what if a probiotic formulation could be developed from natural beneficial bacteria from humans who had a very high capacity to break down arginine?” said Burne. “You would implant this probiotic in a healthy child or adult who might be at risk for developing cavities. 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.”

A12 has a potent ability to battle a particularly harmful kind of streptococcal bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which metabolizes sugar into lactic acid, contributing to acidic conditions in the mouth that form cavities. The UF researchers found that A12 not only helps neutralize acid by metabolizing arginine in the mouth, it also often kills Streptococcus mutans.

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