Tooth Decay
Coconut oil can prevent tooth decay. Newcastle University

Scientists are developing a unique seaweed toothpaste that can protect teeth and gums from bacteria in the mouth, which cause tooth decay.

Scientists from the Newcastle University discovered the new seaweed's medicinal qualities while analysing an enzyme from the marine bacterium, Bacillus licheniformis, which is found on the surface of the seaweed.

The enzyme is usually used for cleaning the hulls of ships but now scientists claim that the enzyme can be used for cleaning the tooth because of its medicinal properties.

"When I initially began researching how to break down these layers of bacteria, I was interested in how we could keep the hulls of ships clear but we soon realised that the mechanism we had discovered had much wider uses. If we can contain it within toothpaste we would be creating a product which could prevent tooth decay," said Dr Nicholas Jakubovics, researcher at the Newcastle University's School of Dental Sciences.

According to the scientists, toothpastes are hardly effective in cleaning the teeth properly, leaving the bacteria in plaque that erode the tooth enamel leading to fillings. Scientists believe that better products can be made using the enzyme which will offer longer and more effective protection.

"Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonise an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors. Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria - but that's not always effective - which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities," said Dr Jakubovics.

"Work in a test tube has shown that this enzyme can cut through the plaque or layer of bacteria and we want to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture cleaning solution," he added.

The study found that the bacteria present in the tooth shield themselves in a slimy protective barrier, when they are under threat. The slimy layer, which is known as a biofilm, is made up of bacteria held together by a web of extracellular DNA. The biofilm protects the bacteria from attack by brushing, chemicals or even antibiotics.

However, when studying the marine bacterium Bacillus licheniformis, scientists found that the seaweed bacterium release enzyme. The enzyme breaks down the external DNA, which removes the bacteria present in plaque instantly.

Researchers are planning to further test and develop the product and are looking to set up collaboration with industry.