While many of us face paralyzing indecision when confronted with the myriad toothpaste, mouthwash, and teeth whitening products available commercially, some researchers have been looking into the things that protect our teeth naturally.
The discovery that a common amino acid, naturally found in foods like red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products, can stop the formation of dental plaque in lab rats is not exactly current news (this amino acid, L-arginine, is already used in dental products for tooth sensitivity) but it is still a significant contribution to the science of dental care.
“This is important as bacteria like to aggregate on surfaces to form biofilms,” says Alexander Rickard, a member of a recent study on the function of L-arginine.
“Biofilms account for more than 50 percent of all hospital infections. Dental plaque biofilms contribute to the billions of dollars of dental treatments and office visits every year in the United States.”(1)
Fighting Cavities – And More Serious Conditions
According to Rickard, about 39 percent of Americans have moderate-to-severe periodontitis – and the number only rises as people age; 64 percent of people over the age of 65 suffer from the disease.
Most contemporary methods of dental plaque removal involve antimicrobial agents aimed at killing plaque bacteria – but these agents can affect patients sense of taste, and also stain their teeth.
Of course, there is also the heated debate in medical communities about the overuse of antimicrobial treatments in recent years – antimicrobial resistance has been named a major public health concern by the World Health Organization, with many doctors and scientists rushing to find ways to bring down the use of antimicrobials in medical settings, while also finding new antibiotics that can get around the issue of antimicrobial resistance(2).
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Researchers are hopeful that with further clinical trials to verify their findings, L-arginine could become a new standard for of controlling plaque bacteria.
Further Study Needed
While researchers are confident in the results of this study, more investigation is needed to determine exactly how L-arginine causes the disintegration of biofilms.
What they suspect is that L-arginine can affect how cells stick together, triggering bacteria within biofilms to alter their behaviour until they no longer stick to surfaces.
For this recent study, published in the journal PLOS ONE(3), researchers used a newly developed model system that can mimic the human oral cavity, using human saliva to grow bacterial species found in dental plaques in a lab setting.
This is a fairly novel approach to investigating the effects of L-arginine, and researchers hope it will go a long way to helping find new treatments for oral infections caused by biofilms that don’t involve the overuse of antimicrobials.
Clinical trials are the next step in investigating the potential use of L-arginine for protecting against more than just tooth sensitivity.