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Tooth-friendly bacterium investigated as chewing gum ingredient

Here’s something new to chew on.

Scientists are developing a chewing gum containing friendly bacteria they say bites back at tooth decay. Good bugs in the gum will prevent bad bugs from sticking to teeth.

The friendly bacterium is called Lactobacillus. It’s usually found in yogurt and already reported to be good for treating bowel conditions.

Lactobacillus reduces the concentration of Streptococcus mutans, the bacterium responsible for dental cavities. These bad bacteria colonize on the surface of the teeth, converting sugar into acids that break down tooth enamel. Lactobacillus makes S. mutans clump together, preventing them from adhering to teeth.

Toothpastes and mouthwashes containing Lactobacillus are also in the pipeline, according to scientists at the German company—BASF—planning to market the products. BASF’s Dr. Andreas Reindl told Chemistry and Industry Journal, "The effectiveness has been demonstrated and the first oral hygiene products containing probiotic lactobacilli are scheduled to appear in 2007."

Dentists advise that the best way to keep teeth and gums in good condition is to clean them regularly and have a regular check-up by a dentist—once every six months to a year.

Dr. Gordon Watkins, a member of the British Dental Association’s health and science committee warned, "These new products will not remove the need to brush your teeth, as their action is targeted against just one bacterium.

"The best way to minimize tooth decay is to reduce consumption of sugars, strengthen the teeth through the use of fluoride and brush teeth to remove dental plaque," according to Dr. Watkins.

Chewing gums containing the artificial sweetener xylitol, which has antimicrobial properties, have also been shown to suppress the bacteria that fight tooth decay.

The World Health Organization estimates that 5 billion people worldwide suffer from tooth decay.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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