Fancy cleaning your teeth with seaweed? It’s what we might be doing if scientists in Newcastle get their way. The team at Newcastle University accidently stumbled upon an enzyme contained in seaweed that could be the answer to banishing plaque.
The team had been studying the bacteria enzyme, Bacillus licheniformis to see if it could clean ships’ hulls but during investigations they discovered that the enzyme can ‘cut through’ plaque on teeth and clean areas that are hard to reach despite regular brushing.
Their lab tests suggest the microbe’s enzyme targets plaque, stripping it of bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Dr Nicholas Jakubovics of Newcastle University’s School of Dental Sciences believes better products offering more effective treatment can be made using the enzyme.
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“Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonise an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors,” he said.
“Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria - but that’s not always effective - which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities.
“We found this enzyme can remove some of these undesirable bacteria from plaque.”
When bacterial cells die, a slimy protective barrier known as a biofilm leaks out and sticks to the teeth. This is held together with DNA, which binds the bacteria to each other and to a solid surface - in this case in the plaque around the teeth and gums. The biofilm protects the bacteria from attack by brushing, chemicals or even antibiotics.
After studying Bacillus licheniformis, which is found on the surface of seaweed, the Newcastle University scientists found that when the bacteria want to move on, they release an enzyme that breaks down the external DNA. This breaks up the biofilm and releases the bacteria from its web.
Dr Jakubovics believes that instead of removing the plaque entirely, the treatment could strip away the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay.
“Ultimately we hope to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture-cleaning solution.”
He added more studies need to be carried out to show the technique works safely before any products could be brought to market.