Researchers at University of Michigan and Newcastle University recently discovered Arginine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in food, breaks down dental plaque. This could help millions of people avoid gum disease and cavities. Arginine is found in poultry, fish, red meat, and dairy products and is already used in some dental products for tooth sensitivity. Alexander Rickard, assistant professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, who along with colleagues made the arginine discovery said, “This is important as bacteria like to aggregate on surfaces to form biofilms. Dental plaque is a biofilm.” “Biofilms account for more than 50 percent of all hospital infections. Dental plaque biofilms contribute to the billions of dollars of dental treatments and office visits every year in the United States.” Research has shown dental biofilms are the cause of gingivitis, periodontal disease, and cavities. This is significant because according to surveys, 24 percent of adults in the United States have untreated cavities, while 39 percent have moderate to severe periodontitis, (that number jumps to 64 percent in adults aged 66 and older).

Currently, most methods used for dental plaque use chemicals aimed at killing plaque bacteria like chlorhexidine. These chemicals can affect taste and even stain teeth and have been highly debated recently. According to Nick Jakubovics, a lecturer at Newcastle University’s School of Dental Sciences “… around 10-to-15 percent of adults in the Western world have advanced periodontitis, which can lead to loose teeth and even the loss of teeth. Therefore, there is a clear need for better methods to control dental plaque.”

The study was conducted by using a model system introduced by the researchers in 2013 that mimics the oral cavity. They then used natural human saliva to grow various bacterial species found in dental plaque in the laboratory. “Other laboratory model systems use one or a small panel of species,” Rickard said. “Dental plaque biofilms can contain tens to hundreds of species, hence our model better mimics what occurs in the mouth, giving us great research insight.”

You can read their findings in the current issue of PLOS ONE.