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Arginine: Anti-cavity Amino Acid?

What if eating healthy didn’t just mean looking and feeling good– what if your food worked as good or better than antibacterials currently in use to fight dental plaque? If you’re eating food rich in the amino acid arginine, this may be a possibility.

Aminos among us

Arginine is one of the 22 amino acids that comprise the building blocks of our bodies’ proteins and are essential elements of human nutrition. It is found in poultry, fish, red meat, and dairy products as well as a large variety of nuts and seeds, wheat germ, buckwheat, and lupine– the plant from which it was originally isolated (and a common garden flower in the Portland area!).

Prior to current research, arginine was already present in dental products aimed at lessening tooth sensitivity. Now scientists at the University of Michigan and Newcastle University are examining arginine’s mechanisms of dental protection and found some promising results: arginine may be a first-rate plaque-buster!

The dirty details of dental plaque

Dental plaque is the scourge of oral health, responsible for cavities, periodontal disease and gingivitis and affecting people worldwide. Plaque generally accumulates with inadequate oral hygiene, but can be worsened greatly by diet and lifestyle factors as well as certain medical conditions and medications.

The key to dental plaque is its anatomy: it is a biofilm. A biofilm is a tiny metropolis of bacteria living together within a sticky matrix of extracellular goo that protects them from harm while they get busy making more of themselves in a microscopic frenzy of dental destruction. Biofilms are harmful to our teeth for a host of reasons but one of the most detrimental is the concentration of damaging acids that bacteria excrete as they grow and multiply. This acid is responsible for eating away at our dental enamel and causing cavities.

In addition, biofilms are also responsible for almost half of hospital infections; because biofilms serve to protect bacteria, they are related to the rise of antibacterial resistance– which is truly scary.

Arginine to the rescue

In their research, the scientists used a novel tool to investigate how arginine works and how it helps our dental health: a bionic mouth. Using real human saliva and many different species of bacteria actually found within our mouths, the scientists were able to recreate a relatively true-to-life reproduction of the oral cavity in which to study arginine’s anti-biofilm tactics.

So far, researchers believe that arginine affects how the individual bacterial cells are able to stick together and to other surfaces, disrupting the protective extracellular matrix that is the hallmark of their biofilm.

The research is ongoing, but the scientists hope that with further information, medical science may be able to utilize arginine, a natural substance, to fight dental plaque– rather than the current antimicrobial agents used. Current agents are harsher to the oral cavity and stain teeth.

Keep learning with us!

Your dentist in Portland, Dr. Bajuscak, has a passion for learning, and the dental field is full of new research and new information. When you visit us, find out what we’re reading about– we love to share!

Call to schedule your next appointment today.

Photo Credit: cmlburnett via Compfight cc

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