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Salivary Mucins Play Active Role To Fight Cavities, Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 16, 2014 09:00 PM EST

Salivary mucins - key components of mucus - actively protect the teeth from the cariogenic bacterium, according to a new study. 

The research suggested that bolstering native defenses might be a better way to fight dental caries instead relying on exogenous materials like sealants and fluoride treatment. 

"We focused on the effect of the salivary mucin, MUC5B on S. mutans attachment and biofilm formation because these are two key steps necessary for cavities to form," said first author Erica Shapiro Frenkel, of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, in the press release. 

"We found that salivary mucins don't alter S. mutans' growth or lead to bacterial killing over 24 hours," says Frenkel. "Instead, they limit biofilm formation by keeping S. mutans suspended in the liquid medium. This is particularly significant for S. mutans because it only causes cavities when it is attached, or in a biofilm on the tooth's surface." She added that the oral microbiome is better preserved when naturally occurring species aren't killed. "The ideal situation is to simply attenuate bacterial virulence," she said.

Experts said the research makes a fundamental contribution to scientific understanding of host-microbe interactions. 

The study was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

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