Ever notice how some football tackles involve lots of defensive players just overwhelming the guy with the ball? I've always found these to be one of the more interesting parts of the game. There's usually nothing malicious about it- they're all just caught up in the moment, and they just keep glomming onto the ball carrier:
Well, BASF corporation is developing a new tooth decay preventive strategy that, on a microscopic level, looks an awful lot like a mass football tackle. Or a rugby scrum, if you're from that side of The Pond.
As I reviewed back in 4/4//2009 in "The Resurgece of Dental Caries", there is one particular germ, Strep mutans, which lives in our mouths and eats some of the sugar that we eat and, as it does so, kicks out a tremendous amount of acid as a byproduct. This acid can then decay our teeth if we are exposed to it too frequently.
(See our "Caries Clock" @ http://www.smilephiladelphian.com/Clock/Caries.html )
For years dental researchers have tried to thwart the destructive plans of this single-mindedly nasty germ. One approach from a few years back was to genetically engineer a strain that wouldn't produce so much acid, and then innoculate patient's mouths with this less damaging version of the Strep. When that was being tried, my first question was, "How are they going to ensure that the less virulent strain out-competes the wild strain, and takes over in the patient's mouth?" There are also the vast concerns about introducing genetically altered strains of bacteria into the world when we are really not yet fully able to predict the consequences of such manipulations.
BASF's approach, named pro-t-action, seems to take advantage of the more natural antagonisms between different bacteria. Just like the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys have a famous sports rivalry, germs compete against each other too. But instead of title wins, they are after resources in their environment. Over thousands of years (and with generation times of as little as 20 minutes) they have developed offensive and defensive strategies that would make any football coach green with envy.
It turns out that a germ called Lactobacillus paracasei has developed a protein (probably back when our ancestors were trying to figure out how to walk on two feet, not four) that has the ability to:
-Target Strep mutans,
-Bind to them, and then,
-Clump them together, just like football's mass tackle or rugby's scrum:
A lot more germs clump together than there are players in the entire NFL, however, and once they do this, the normal actions of chewing and swallowing simply flush the clusters of them out of the mouth. Other germs besides Strep mutans are not affected, since these antagonisms are very specific. Also, not all of the Strep mutans would be washed out of the mouth, but most of them would be, and this may prove to be sufficient to stop the process of tooth decay in the human mouth.
Unless you drink too much Gatorade- any system can be overwhelmed...
BASF has details (dry corporate ones, but details nonetheless) here:
We'll keep you posted as this concept is developed further.