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New Way to Stamp Out Tooth Decay

Experimental Technique May Counter Cavity-Causing Bacteria
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 24, 2006 -- Scientists may have found a new way to sideline bacteria that cause tooth decay and dental cavities.

The method is still experimental. So it won't help your teeth if you eat too much Halloween candy this year.

But if successful, it might one day help thwart tooth decay.

The toothy tool comes from scientists including Wenyuan Shi, PhD, of the School of Dentistry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

They call their tool "STAMP" (specifically targeted antimicrobial peptides).

Basically, STAMP is a tiny protein that knocks out a cavity-causing bacterium without harming healthy bacteria.

Cavity-Causing Bacterium

The scientists targeted a bacterium called Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans), which causes tooth decay and dental cavities.

Their goal: Kill S. mutans without harming any of the hundreds of other types of bacteria found in the mouth.

Don't get grossed out. Some of those bacteria are healthy.

Shi explains in a news release from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one of the study's sponsors.

"The good bacteria are mixed in with the bad ones," Shi says.

Current treatments "simply clear everything away," Shi says. "That can be a problem because we have data to show that the pathogens [the bad bacteria] grow back first."

STAMP Strategy

Shi's team used DNA data to precisely target S. mutans with STAMP.

STAMP worked in a series of lab tests, including a watery clash with S. mutans in test tubes containing saliva.

Will stamping out S. mutans spell trouble for the mouth? Maybe not.

About 10% to 15% of people don't have S. mutans in their mouths, "and they do just fine without it," Shi says, adding that STAMP studies are already under way in people.

Meanwhile, remember to brush and floss your teeth and get regular dental checkups.

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