Help Fighting Cavities

Each year, Americans spend over $70 billion on dental care. Now two researchers say they’ve developed a superweapon in the fight against cavities. The scientists, one at Yale and one at the Universidad de Santiago in Chile, say the substance they developed completely eradicates the bacteria responsible for cavities.

Most people know sugar leads to cavities, but the more immediate culprit is a type of bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. The S. mutans digests sugar on teeth, which turns it into lactic acid. It is this lactic acid that creates cavities by eating away at the tooth enamel.

In fact, cavities have reached near epidemic proportions in the United States. Recently, it was determined that more than 60 million Americans have at least one cavity, and an increasing number of preschoolers are coming to the dentist with ten or more. That’s why it’s important to brush and floss regularly.

Now researchers believe they’ve found a molecule that destroys S. mutans, protecting teeth from its deleterious effects. Called Keep 32, it can be added to a variety of products—such as toothpaste and even candy—to help millions of people. Unlike fluoride, which attempts to minimize the damage lactic acid does by building up and strengthening tooth enamel, Keep 32 goes after the producers of the lactic acid and fights decay at the source.

This is among the first medically developed weapon against the bacteria, though there have long been folk remedies. In fact, a compound in roasted barley tea has been demonstrated to be effective. However, Keep 32 would, if proven effective, be far more versatile in administration. That is, you don’t have to drink tea or take a pill with the extract to get the effect.

The researchers are preparing to test the substance in human subjects, though they are already in discussions with toothpaste manufacturers and confectioners if, as expected, the molecule proves effective in people.

The creators say they hope to have commercial products incorporating Keep 32 available in about a year and a half.

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