With all the mouth-watering food awaiting us, many have concerns about potential weight gain, about healthy eating, about getting Grandma’s recipe just right– but Sue Walker Dentistry has some good news about great food: your saliva fights cavities.

The magic of mucin

According to new research between scientists at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of saliva’s ingredients, a glycoprotein called salivary mucin, may play a critical role in reducing the activity of s mutans, a potent cavity-causing bacterial strain.

Breaking the biofilm

S mutans, or Streptoccocus mutans, forms cavities in a particular way: by creating a biofilm. A biofilm is a basically a community of millions of bacteria held together by a common medium that they all secrete– in technical terms, this medium is called an “extracellular matrix.” This material protects S mutans, thus freeing up their schedules to do what they do best: eat sugar and excrete the acids that break down our dental enamel and cause cavities!

S mutans depends on its biofilm formation for its pathogenicity. Without it, the bacteria is just free floating in our mouths, unable to sit down and enjoy its dinner of sugars and carbohydrates and unable to bore holes in our teeth with their metabolic waste! This is where saliva comes in. The scientists found that salivary mucin is directly responsible for breaking down S mutans’ biofilm. The does not harm the bacteria directly– it just doesn’t let it sit down to eat, so it can’t harm us!

Mucin: more than meets the eye

Previously, scientists believed that salivary mucin only served to make food slippery so it could be “washed down” easier. Mucin was also noted to be a player in passive defense: catching invading microorganisms and sticking to them so they could be swallowed or expelled from the body, rather than passing into our delicate respiratory system.

Mucin’s newly discovered, active role in controlling harmful microorganisms is exciting to scientists. Researchers on the project speculated that if their results are correct they indicate that oral health might be better served by strengthening our bodies’ own natural defenses rather than placing emphasis on outside remedies like fluoride rinses or treatments. Of course, this is still speculation and much more work needs to be done before any changes to our already time-tested approach to oral health and hygiene would be changed!

Don’t forget your holiday dental visit!

Nonetheless, discoveries like these are fascinating to Sue Walker Dentistry and oral health aficionados nation-wide! It’s exciting to see how well-engineered our bodies are to take on microbial invaders and how important preventive care is to our overall health!

Speaking of preventive care, be sure to schedule your appointment before the holidays– and all that great food– sweeps you away! Call now to plan your next visit with Dr. Sue, your dentist in SE Portland and Milwaukie, Oregon.

Photo Credit: adonofrio (Biology101.org) via Compfight cc