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News / November 26, 2010

Food fights with tooth decay

by Guy Hiscott

Cranberries and wine offer new leads in the effort to fight tooth decay, according to new work by dental researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

Dr Hyun Koo, a dentist turned food scientist and microbiologist, is exploring the destructive power of Streptococcus mutans and investigating various foods and natural substances to harness their ability to prevent cavities.

He said: ‘Natural substances offer tremendous possibilities for stopping tooth decay. Our time spent in the laboratory is aimed at harnessing the potential of some of these compounds, perhaps eventually incorporating them into a toothpaste or mouth rinse to stop dental decay.’

Together with Nicholi Vorsa PhD, director of the Philip E Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Dr Koo is working to isolate the compounds within the cranberry that offer the greatest protection.

The pair has identified molecules, known as A-type proanthocyanidins, as having the potential to reduce cavities dramatically.

Earlier this year in the journal Caries Research, the team reported that when the molecules were applied, glucan and acid production by S. mutans were reduced by up to 70%, and cavity formation in rats was slashed by up to 45%.

These molecules do not kill S. mutans outright, but rather they disrupt the two most harmful actions of the pathogenic organism – acid and glucan production.

Dr Koo and his team have also found that the abundant waste from the red-wine-making process – materials such as fermented seeds and skins collectively known as pomace that are cast away after grapes are pressed – contains compounds that fight S. mutans.

In particular, some polyphenols can inhibit the activity of S. mutans’ crucial enzymes by as much as 85% and reduce the amount of acid the bacteria produce.

Dr Koo notes people should not simply eat more cranberries or drink more wine to try to prevent cavities. His work is aimed at identifying and then exploiting specific compounds that give the benefit without, for instance, the high levels of acidity or the added sugar that cranberry products might include.