London: Scientists claim to have found a new, unexpected weapon in the fight against tooth decay -- microbes found on seaweed which they say could be more effective than toothpaste.
Researchers at the Newcastle University were studying an enzyme found in the marine bacterium Bacillus licheniformis in a research meant for for cleaning ships` hulls.
But, they found that the enzyme was able to "cut through" plaque on teeth and clean hard-to-reach areas.
The find could lead to a range of medical applications, including teeth cleaning, the team said.
Better products offering more effective treatment can be made using the enzyme, said researcher Dr Nicholas Jakubovics of Newcastle University`s School of Dental Sciences.
"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," the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
"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," he said.
"Work in a test tube has shown that this enzyme can cut through the plaque or layer of bacteria and we want to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture cleaning solution," he added.
According to the researchers, when threatened, bacteria shield themselves in a slimy protective barrier known as a biofilm. It is made up of bacteria held together by a web of extracellular 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.
But after studying Bacillus licheniformis, which is found on the surface of seaweed, the scientists found that when the bacteria want to move on, they release an enzyme which breaks down the external DNA. That breaks up the biofilm and releases the bacteria from the web.
"It`s an amazing phenomenon," said Grant Burgess, who led the study. "The enzyme breaks up and removes the bacteria present in plaque and importantly, it can prevent the build up of plaque too," he said.
"If we can contain it within a toothpaste we would be creating a product which could prevent tooth decay," he added.