Preventing cavities is one of the primary goals of oral hygiene. From brushing and flossing your teeth each day, to using germ-killing mouthwashes, to visiting your dentist for regular checkups, cleanings, and x-rays, we dedicate a lot of time and energy to scrubbing cavity-causing, bacteria-filled plaque off of our teeth.
The plaque builds up throughout the day, we do our best to scrub it off each night and morning, and then our dentist scrapes off the stuff we missed, which by that time has hardened into calculus that we can’t remove at home. After the appointment, we go right back to the routine — wash, rinse, repeat. And while good oral hygiene is essential to preventing cavities, we simply aren’t effective enough when it comes to at-home oral care to completely eliminate our risk.
Fortunately, some researchers have recognized the failures of this cycle and are looking for a neater solution: Stopping the plaque from sticking to your teeth in the first place.
Stop the Plaque Before it Sticks
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham knew that the primary source of dental caries (the medical term for tooth decay) is bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. This bacteria produces a sticky biofilm that allows it to “glue” itself to teeth, where it then releases lactic acid to weaken the enamel and give the bacteria access to the tooth. While our current defense is to remove the biofilm (plaque) before it can damage the teeth, the researchers in this study had a different thought: What if they could stop the biofilm from sticking to teeth in the first place?
To achieve this, the researchers first used a computer simulation to screen 500,000 possible compounds that could prevent the biofilm’s enzymes from binding to the tooth. Out of those half a million compounds, 90 promising options moved into further testing, leading to seven compounds that could be what the researchers were looking for. This study tested enzyme #G43 topically on the teeth of animals.
The results were extremely promising: The enzyme was able to inhibit the biofilm’s ability to bind to the tooth, reducing decay in the teeth of rats who were being fed a specifically cavity-promoting diet.
Will This Save Us From Cavities?
Hopefully the identification of this enzyme will lead to the development of a therapeutic drug to prevent cavity formation. But until that day, we have to keep doing our best to clear off that biofilm before the bacteria can start to rot our teeth.
That means brushing thoroughly twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste, making sure to brush in small circles along the gumline and not to brush too aggressively. It means flossing daily to get at the plaque in between teeth.
It also means seeing your dentist for regularly scheduled checkups and cleanings. Whatever plaque you miss will need to be removed professionally, and your dentist has the tools and skills to do so.