By: Shelagh McNally for Dental1
Finally, there may be a candy that actually helps our teeth. According to researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles, compounds taken from licorice may actually help prevent cavities. The study, published in the February issue of Journal of Natural Products, discussed how compounds in the Chinese herb Glycyrrhiza uralensis inhibit Streptococcus mutans, the strain of bacteria often responsible for tooth decay.
|Fighting Tooth Decay|
Taking any action to fight tooth decaying bacteria is useful. Consider its characteristics:
Streptococcus mutans is one tough bacteria
Main contributor to tooth decay
Can grow under conditions that would kill other bacteria
Found mostly on tooth surfaces in the crevices, pits and fissures of the tooth
Sticks to the surface of teeth and subsists on a diverse group of carbohydrates
Virually everyone is a carrier
Reacts with food containing fermentable carbohydrates, which include all sugars and cooked starches to create an acid that eats away at mineral in the tooth
It’s easily transmitted from parent to child via testing parents testing the baby bottles or cleaning a pacifier or bottle nipple with saliva
First discovered by JK Clark in 1924 but not researched until 1960
Lead study author Dr. Wenyuan Shi, a microbiologist at UCLA’s School of Dentistry told Reuters Health, “Chewing licorice has been a practice in different cultures. Our findings provide some scientific basis for that.”
Antimicrobial compounds are found in many other Chinese medicinal herbs so Shi’s team painstakingly evaluated 2,000 herbs to determine their potential. The strongest combination was found in Chinese licorice, where at least two of the compounds inhibited the growth of bacteria on teeth in test tubes.
Licorice, a shrub native to southern Europe and Asia, has been used for generations and is cultivated around the world. It’s prized for its roots and rhizomes (underground stems) that are sweet tasting. In fact, some varieties are 50 times sweeter than sugar. High in vitamin E, B-complex, biotin, niacin, pantothenic acid, lecithin, manganese and other trace elements, licorice is a popular flavoring in candies, beverages and tobacco. Many European cough preparations use licorice because of its solid reputation for soothing coughs, colds and bronchitis. Even today licorice remains one of the active ingredients listed in many European cough preparations. Chewing licorice root has become a popular home remedy for quitting smoking. Now, mouthwash and toothpaste may soon be added to licorice’s list of uses.
Both Dr. Shi and fellow researcher Qing-Yi Lu, Ph.D., a chemist at UCLA’s School of Medicine, cautioned that further investigation and research is needed before declaring licorice a prevention for tooth decay. Shi and this team are currently developing sugar-free lollipops containing the active component in licorice that could be used to promote oral health in kids and seniors. Preventing cavities never tasted so sweet!
Fun Facts about LicoriceGlycyrrhizin that is 50 times sweeter than ordinary sugar
Spain is the largest producer of licorice
90% of the licorice used as a flavoring is used to flavor tobacco
Licorice candy contains small amounts of licorice, but the main flavor ingredient of licorice candy is anise
Carbenoxolone, a compound derived from licorice root, is used to heal peptic ulcers
The boot that Charlie Chaplin eats is his movie The Gold Rush was made out of licorice. Chaplin went into insulin shock after 63 takes of the famous scene.
It was a favorite of Alexander the Great and Caesar
First American licorice was in 1914 by a candy entrepreneur
Leftover waste from the root is being used to make boxes
There are over a dozen varieties of licorice