Saliva protects teeth against cavities more than we thought

Mucus – part of the 0.5% of saliva that is not water – contains salivary mucins, compounds that actively protect teeth from damage by the cavity-causing bacterium Streptococcus mutans, according to a new study.

Previously it was thought that salivary mucins – large glycoproteins – did little more than keep mucus in saliva slippery and elastic, contributing to its gel-like properties. But now it seems they play an active role in defending against pathogens and keeping the human microbiome healthy.

In the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, First author Erica Shapiro Frenkel, of Harvard University, and principal investigator Katharina Ribbeck, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in Cambridge, MA, report their findings.

Frenkel says their findings suggest boosting the body’s natural defenses might be a better way to prevent tooth decay than relying on external agents like sealants and fluoride treatments.
A biofilm is a densely packed community of microbes that grow on surfaces and surround themselves with sticky polymers that they secrete.

The researchers found that salivary mucins do not alter levels of S. mutans nor kill the bacteria over 24 hours. Instead, they keep the bacteria suspended in a liquid medium, and this in turn reduces their ability to form biofilms on teeth….More

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