Caries, the scientific name for dental decay, is from the Latin for “rottenness.” A 2015 study determined that 2.3 billion people in the world have caries in their permanent teeth. Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham have come up with a new concept to fight the bacteria that cause cavities.
Doctor Sadanandan Velu, associate professor of chemistry, and Doctor Hui Wu, professor of pediatric dentistry, took an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of caries and created a small molecule that prevents or impedes tooth cavities in preclinical studies.
The molecule prevents Streptococcus mutans – the prime bacterial cause of tooth decay – from making the protective and sticky biofilm that allows it to glue to the tooth surface, where its lactic acid eats away tooth enamel.
In the studies, rats on a low-sucrose diet were exposed to the Streptococcus mutans and their teeth were treated topically with the inhibitor molecule twice a day for four weeks. The treatment caused significant reductions in the bacteria’s ability to form biofilms to coat the teeth and cause enamel damage and dentinal caries.
Velu, the lead researcher, says that being able to selectively take away the ability of bacteria to create biofilms to stick to teeth would be a tremendous advance in dental care.
Wu, whose expertise is bacteriology and biochemistry, believes that this is extremely promising for developing new treatments – not just for oral health, but for treating overall health and disease as well since poor oral health is linked to many human diseases.
Research is continuing, but in the near future it may be possible to drastically reduce the incidence of dental caries with this form of molecular “sabotage,” leading to healthier, happier smiles.