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A lollipop for your oral health?

A University of California-Los Angeles researcher has become a candy entrepreneur. But there's a catch: he created herbal lollipops that are designed to prevent cavities, at least temporarily.

Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D., a microbiologist at the UCLA School of Dentistry, created orange-flavored sugarless lollipops infused with an herbal formula found in licorice that targets and disables bacteria like Streptococcus mutans which cause tooth decay.

Having conducted some 50,000 experiments on 2,000 Chinese herbs in his career, Dr. Shi embarked on his goal of creating a powerful weapon to fight tooth decay by applying a medical approach to dentistry. According to UCLA Today Online, that led to identifying the decay-causing pathogens among the 700 kinds of bacteria living in the mouth, tracking their presence and targeting them with antimicrobial "smart bombs" to kill the bad bacteria without harming the good.

Teeth are susceptible to decay because plaque, a sticky film of bacteria, constantly forms on your teeth. When you eat or drink foods containing sugars or starches, the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel. The stickiness of the plaque keeps these acids in contact with your teeth and after many such attacks, the enamel can break down and a cavity forms.

Brushing, flossing and dental care can rid the mouth of plaque and therefore reduce tooth decay, but none of these things target bacteria. The bad bacteria, said Dr. Shi, grow back rapidly because your mouth is the perfect incubator by providing the right temperature and regular food supply.

Consuming Dr. Shi's candy twice a day — once after breakfast and again before bed — for 10 days can reduce the bacteria that causes decay.

Someday he hopes to develop test kits for bacteria, too.

"Part of my wild dream is that one day you will walk into the dentist's office and give a saliva sample to be tested, just as you would give urine and blood samples to doctors," said Dr. Shi, who plans to bring more bacteria-fighting products to market.

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.

2/25/2008

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