No More Cavities? New Molecule May Provide a Cavity-Free Future
Since 2005, Chilean researchers have been searching for a molecule that destroys Streptococcus mutans, a tough-to-kill bacteria considered to be the leading cause of cavities. Seven years later, they discovered a molecule they’re calling “Keep 32” — because incorporating it into toothpastes and dental care products may help you reduce cavities and keep all 32 teeth healthy.
Jose Cordova, a molecular biologist from Yale University, and Eric Astudillo, a businessman and graduate of the Universidad de Chile, discovered and studied the Keep 32 molecule. They say it can eliminate S. mutans in 60 seconds to reduce tooth decay and the cavities that accompany it.
In a nutshell, S. mutans lives off the sugars or biofilm that collects on your teeth. The cost of S. mutans living on your teeth can be high: The bacteria produce acid that can cause cavities. While traditional toothpastes can kill some bacteria, S. mutans seems to be resistant to most. This leaves mechanical removal, such as brushing and flossing, as the best ways to get rid of the bacteria.
“This particular bacteria is the leading cause of dental caries or tooth decay,” says says Brittany Anne Seymour, DDS, MPH, Instructor, Global and Community Health, at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. “The potential for a reduction in decay could be excellent if this particular species could be reduced or eliminated. However, other bacterial species also cause decay, so eliminating tooth decay would not be possible by controlling S. mutans alone.”
S. mutans can be especially dangerous because in rare instances, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream. If your immune system is compromised, this can lead to a condition known as endocarditis, where your heart valves become inflamed. The bacteria’s effects are all the more reason to keep caring for your teeth.
The Keep 32 molecule joins a growing body of research on controlling S. mutans growth to reduce cavities. In November 2011, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a study conducted on 12 people that found using an UCLA-developed mouthwash called C16G2 helped to almost completely eradicate S. mutans. The study, which was affiliated with the Colgate-Palmolive Technology Center, appeared in the 2011 edition of Caries Research. The researchers will conduct further clinical research to ensure the mouthwash’s effects.
Similarly, the Keep 32 molecule is still in its development stages. Astudillo and Cordova have a patent pending on the molecule. They also are seeking funding to launch larger-scale testing to determine how well the molecule works on humans. If this occurs, the product could be cleared for incorporation into dental products in 14 to 18 months. The researchers see potential for adding the molecule to toothpastes, mouthwashes, and chewing gum.
Healthy Dental Habits Rule
Until new S. mutans-fighting products hit the market, Dr. Seymour advises sticking with your brushing and flossing routine while also eating a healthy diet of foods low in sugar. If you don’t “feed” S. mutans with sugars, the bacteria is less likely to grow in the first place.
“Without additional information or research, we can’t predict what might happen,” Seymour says. “Widespread use of this potential ‘antibacterial toothpaste’ might want to be limited to only the highest-risk individuals rather than distributed to the general population.”
Another tool in a dentist’s arsenal for cavity prevention would be welcomed, says R. H. Price, a dentist and American Dental Association (ADA) spokesperson based in Newton, Mass.
“Every healthcare professional’s goal should be to make himself or herself obsolete,” Dr. Price says.