At the Society for Applied Microbiology meeting in Edinburgh, UK, Nick Jakubovics of Newcastle University reported that enzymes from the microbe Bacillus licheniformis could be used to cut through the plaque that brushing alone can't reach. The enzymes had originally been investigated as possible weapons against biofouling - when marine organisms stick to the hulls of ships, ruining their streamlined shape and slowing them down - but now the enzyme is being investigated by the university's school of dental sciences.
The plaque found on teeth is a biofilm of bacteria, some dead and others stuck in close proximity that can cause tooth decay. Traditional toothpastes mainly rely on mechanically scrubbing off the bacteria, but toothbrushes can't reach everywhere. The enzymes Jakubovics is working on won't completely get rid of the plaque, but it will prevent the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay from sticking to the tooth's surface. However, more research is needed before the technology might find its way into our toothpastes.
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