Coming Soon: A Drug That Could Blast Away Cavity- Causing Bacteria

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What new development has come onto the laboratory scene lately? Well, it’s something that could keep you from undertaking one of the most dreaded tasks — going to the dentist! No, I’m not kidding — U.S. scientists have just recently developed a drug that could actually target the bad bacteria in your mouth that cause tooth decay, while leaving the good bacteria intact.

 Before we get into the specifics of the new drug, let’s review the topic of tooth decay. Tooth decay is a slow process. It starts when dental plaque accumulates on your teeth. Feeding off of the sugar in the food you eat, the bacteria that make up the plaque then manufacture an acid that eats away at your teeth, causing permanent damage. First, the enamel that protects your teeth is taken off, and then the acid eats away at the inner section of the tooth. The result is a hole in the tooth, which is called a cavity.

 Tooth decay symptoms include toothache, sensitivity to cold or hot food and drink or cold air, yellowish or grayish teeth, pits or holes in the teeth, pain or bleeding in the gums, bad breath, or a unpleasant taste in your mouth. Now, most of us think that the worst part of having a cavity is that we have to go to the dentist and suffer through needles, drilling, and fillings, etc.

 However, if left untreated, the situation could get a whole lot worse — when ignored, tooth decay could lead to an abscess, which is really an infection that has spread to the root of the tooth and the surrounding tissue. Symptoms of this can be fever, a swollen jaw and/or glands, and severe pain. Ultimately, the tooth could fall out or require extraction. No one wants a big gap in his/her smile.

 That’s where this novel drug could come in. It’s a type of a newly developed category of medications called “selectively targeted antimicrobial peptides” or STAMPs for short, which are in the testing stage for illnesses caused by microorganisms (i.e. bacteria). The usual antibiotic treatment is not really appropriate in many cases, as it is not selective in any way.

 For example, if you were to administer it to a person in order to try and kill the bad bacteria that are causing tooth decay, it would do the job — however, it would also destroy all the friendly bacteria that are required in the mouth to prevent other types of infections. So, you’d basically be trading one health problem for another.

 With STAMPs, the goal is to “program” the antibiotic only to kill off a specific type of microorganism while leaving others alive. In this recent study, the researchers created a STAMP to target and destroy “Streptococcus mutans,” one of those nasty bacteria that live in plaque and cause cavities.

 Like giving a hunting dog a scent, the researchers programmed the STAMP to hone in on this particular bacterium via the detection of a pheromone produced by S. mutans. The researchers found that the STAMPs did indeed do their job — in lab tests, they blasted away the S. mutans bacteria while leaving types of harmless oral bacteria untouched.

 Until the drug is widely available, the best way to prevent tooth decay is good dental hygiene. In fact, even if you can use a pill to help stave off cavities, it should only be in addition to practicing good dental health care.