Gainesville, Fla. – A probiotic pill could one day be used to prevent dental cavities by regulating pH in the mouth, according to scientists at the University of Florida.
The scientists identified a bacteria that breaks down substances in the mouth and can control the function of other bacteria that lead to cavities, which would help to prevent them.
Bacteria on the teeth clump together to form plaques, making acids that break teeth down. Acidity in the mouth, or pH level, must stay neutral, but if it increases, this increases risk for cavities and other conditions to develop.
Previous research by the scientists found two compounds in the mouth, urea and arginine, are broken down into ammonia, which neutralises acids in the mouth. The research showed that people who are better at breaking down the two compounds have fewer cavities.
For the new study, published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the scientists took samples of plaque, isolating more than 2,000 bacteria, screening them all to find those that metabolise arginine, arriving at one called A12.
“We may be able to use this as a risk assessment tool,” Dr. Marcelle Nascimento, an associate professor of restorative dental sciences at the University of Florida, in a press release. “If we get to the point where we can confirm that people who have more of this healthy type of bacteria in the mouth are at lower risk of cavities, compared to those who don’t carry the beneficial bacteria and may be at high risk, this could be one of the factors that you measure for cavities risk.”
In addition to larger studies on the effects of A12 in the mouth, as well as understanding other bacteria interacting with it, the researchers said they see the potential for some type of treatment that could prevent the formation of cavities by interacting with bacteria in the mouth.
“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 Dr. Robert Burne, an associate dean at the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry. “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.”