New research carried out at the Athione Institute of Technology in Ireland has found coconut oil could be useful in fighting the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Scientists at the Institute tested coconut oil to see how well it reacted against the bacterium Streptococcus mutans and found when the coconut oil was treated with digestive enzymes it was able to inhibit the growth of the bacterium quite effectively.
This could lead to a range of toothpaste and mouthwashes being developed, with coconut oil as one of the active ingredients. The lead researcher in the study, Dr Damian Brady is said to have commented that dental caries is often overlooked, but affects between 60 and 90% of children and most adults in westernised countries. The enzyme modified coconut oil is effective at quite low concentrations, and would be a good alternative to adding chemicals to oral health products. These findings could also prove important as many bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics treatments.
Apparently the study came about as Dr Brady had conducted previous experiments that showed partially digested milk made it more difficult for Streptococcus mutans to stick to teeth, showing that the human digestion could have antimicrobial qualities and this may affect overall gut health. Future studies into how this enzyme treated coconut oil could affect other bacterium are being planned.
Why is Streptococcus mutans able to cause tooth decay?
Although the human mouth is full of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans is the main agent for causing cavities. It’s estimated there are around 25 different species of streptococci in the oral cavity and each has special properties. While some are harmless, others are less so, and the growth of pioneer species such as Streptococcus mutans changes the environment allowing weaker organisms to colonise the mouth more easily.
Streptococcus mutans feeds off sugar and uses sucrose to produce a sticky substance that enables the bacteria to stick to the teeth. Other sugars such as glucose, lactose and fructose are also digested by this bacterium, but it produces lactic acid as a by-product. It’s the combination of being able to stick to the teeth and this acid production that leads to tooth decay. There have been efforts to make a vaccine against this bacterium, but so far there’s been little success so this latest research is extremely interesting.
Fighting against tooth decay
While scientists are busy trying to develop new ways of fighting this bacterium, what’s the best way to lessen your chances of developing tooth decay?
The answer isn’t exactly surprising as it’s always down to having good oral hygiene. There is no substitute for cleaning your teeth thoroughly twice-daily and flossing once-a-day. If you’re tempted to skip the flossing then it’s worth remembering that about a third of your tooth surfaces are in the contact areas in between teeth, or those areas that can’t be effectively cleaned with a toothbrush.
It is essential not to skip your biannual trips to the dentist for a full checkup and professional cleaning. Any small cavities will be picked up quickly and treated before they cause toothache and require more extensive treatment. So while there’s no quick fix to preventing cavities, at least you now know why they form.