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Licorice root fights oral bacteria

When it comes to licorice, you might want to pass up the whips, vines, twists and chewy nuggets for a licorice that can help keep your teeth and gums healthy. Dried licorice root—an herb sometimes used to treat sore throats, respiratory and digestive problems and other disorders—might be an effective agent to fight the bacteria that cause tooth decay and periodontal disease, according to a recent study.

In the study, published in the Journal of Natural Products, author Stefan Gafner Ph.D., a researcher for the natural care products company Tom's of Maine, (a division of Colgate-Palmolive) reported that two compounds found in dried licorice root are effective antibacterial substances that can prevent the growth several major bacteria connected with cavities and gum disease.

In the study, licoricidin and licorisoflavan A inhibited two of the major bacteria responsible for dental cavities and two of the bacteria that promote gum disease and licoricidin also inhibited a third gum disease bacterium.

Licorice root is often used in Chinese traditional medicine and alternative medicine as an additive that enhances the activity of other herbal ingredients. Outside the U.S., it is also being studied for use as an alternative therapy for Hepatitis C patients.

Licorice root is also used as a breath freshening ingredient in some natural toothpastes. And at a 2009 symposium on early childhood caries in Alaska Native and American Indian children, University of California, Los Angeles, researcher Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D., presented study results that showed that licorice plant extract, when added to lollipops, killed cavity-causing bacteria in young children.

The licorice-flavored candies that consumers buy at the store, however, don't contain licorice root. These treats contain anise oil, which has a similar taste.

Licorice root should be used with caution after consulting with a health care professional, since it can have serious side effects and negative interactions with prescription medications.

©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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