University of Florida Research Could Lead to Fighting Cavities with a Pill

University of Florida researchers have identified a new strain of good bacteria in the mouth that may keep bad bacteria in check. This discovery could lead to the development of a type of supplement — that patients can take orally — to prevent cavities, the researchers said.

To maintain a healthy mouth, the mouth must have a relatively neutral chemical makeup, or neutral pH. For example, cavities and other dental issues can develop when the mouth becomes more acidic, said Robert Burne, Ph.D., associate dean for research and chair of the UF College of Dentistry’s department of oral biology.

Previous research has found two main compounds that help neutralize acid in the mouth. The first is urea, which everyone secretes in the mouth; the other is arginine, an amino acid. Researchers have found that adults and children with few or no cavities were better at breaking down arginine than people with cavities.

"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?" Dr. Burne said.

While developing an effective probiotic supplement to promote oral health will need more research, a possible candidate organism for this development has been identified, according to the researchers. This organism is currently called A12, a strain of Streptococcus, which has been found to break down compounds like arginine best.

The UF researchers found that A12 has a potent ability to battle a particularly harmful kind of streptococcal bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which helps turn sugar into lactic acid. A12 not only helps neutralize acid by metabolizing arginine in the mouth, it also often kills Streptococcus mutans.

For now, the researchers hope to continue their study on A12 and other bacteria in the mouth. The team received a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to conduct further research.

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