'Coating' on teeth could stop plaque: The American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston

A biological coating that stops bacteria getting a hold on teeth could help make plaque a thing of the past, scientists said yesterday.

Two microbiologists from a dental centre in Boston have been studying the habits of an organism they believe is found only in adult human mouths.

'These organisms, of all the places to inhabit on the planet, have selected the surfaces of human teeth as their main habitat,' Ronald Gibbons told the meeting.

Scientists have never spotted the bacterium, Actinomyces viscosus in the mouths of babies, have only found it in children if their first teeth have appeared, and say it vanishes if someone has all their teeth taken out. They believe the bacterium may be passed on to children by their mothers.

It is harmful because it builds up to form a dental plaque associated with gum disease and root decay. Dr Gibbons found that a class of proteins in human saliva are shaped so that one end of their structure sticks fast to the enamel coating of a tooth, while the other end attracts the bacteria. The bacteria are not attracted to the proteins while they float in the fluids in the mouth, but as soon as the protein sticks to a tooth, it changes shape, exposing a part of itself which the bacteria easily recognises. Dr Gibbons has found that if he cuts off the part of the protein the bacteria can spot, they have no way of gripping the protein, or the tooth.

He uses an enzyme to cut the protein at the right place, ensuring it is still able to perform useful functions in the mouth, but leaving the harmful bacteria nothing to hold on to. 'I can imagine a time when you could visit your dental hygienist, they would scrape off any film built up on your teeth and replace it with a coating of this new version of the protein.'

He said it might also be possible to include the protein in toothpaste.

Saliva is rich in calcium and phosphate, without which teeth would dissolve. The saliva's special proteins help prevent the calcium and phosphate from crystallising out.

Dr Gibbons said his replacement approach was particularly attractive because the modified protein would still perform this vital role. 'The coating would not greatly upset the natural ecology of the mouth, any more than brushing your teeth,' he said.

He explained that unlike using an antibiotic, the engineered protein would not kill off the bacteria, just make it impossible for them to stick to teeth. The scientists have tested their new tooth coating in the laboratory, but have yet to try it on people. Trials should go ahead in the next few months.

Dr Gibbons has patented the coating, and two pharmaceutical companies have already shown an interest in it.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?