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Intelligent Attacks on Tooth Decay

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Intelligent Attacks on Tooth Decay

Intelligent Attacks on Tooth Decay

February 05, 2007
By: Beth Walsh for Dental1

A new, smart anti-microbial treatment just might be the answer to tooth decay. Researchers supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research have created a treatment that can be chemically programmed to seek out and kill a specific cavity-causing species of bacteria, leaving the good bacteria untouched.
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When oral bacteria consume sugars, they start to produce the acids that cause tooth decay within minutes. To prevent cavities:
  • Use artificial sweeteners rather than natural sugars.
  • Minimize the duration sugars are allowed to remain in your mouth. Brush and floss, or at least rinse, promptly after consuming sugary foods.
  • Don't snack on sugary foods or sip sugary beverages over a prolonged period of time. Eat or drink these items in fairly short order and then clean your teeth.
  • Decay occurs in those areas where dental plaque lies on a tooth's surface. So, brush and floss often and effectively. Take time and be thorough – the spots you don’t clean well are the most likely to foster cavities.

  • The experimental treatment is called a STAMP, or “specifically targeted antimicrobial peptides.” One side contains the short homing sequence of a pheromone, which is a signaling chemical that can be as unique as a fingerprint to a bacterium and assures that the STAMP will find its target. The other side carries a small anti-microbial bomb that is chemically linked to the homing sequence and kills the bacterium when the two meet.

    Scientists have successfully targeted specific bacteria in the laboratory in the past, but STAMPs are new. They generally consist of less than 25 amino acids, a relatively streamlined design which allows them to be mass produced. The lead researcher, Wenyuan Shi, PhD, of the School of Dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), spent about eight years developing STAMP. He said the problem was that dental hygiene had reached an impasse. At least 700 species of bacteria inhabit the mouth. Some promote good oral health and some cause problems. Current treatments clear out all of the bacteria. That can be a problem because research has shown that the more competitive bad bacteria – or pathogens – grow back first. That’s what makes the homing device that finds and destroys S. mutans on the STAMP so important.

    Shi and his team found that they could eliminate the cavity-associated oral bacterium Steptococcus mutans from an oral biofilm within 30 seconds – without any collateral damage to related but non-pathogenic species attached nearby. Biofilms are complex, multi-layered microbial communities that routinely form on teeth and organs throughout the body.

    The S. mutans STAMP can be added to toothpaste or mouthwash. The scientists are working on other dental STAMPs that target the specific oral microbes associated with periodontal disease and halitosis.

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