Teeth are protected from the cariogenic bacterium, Streptococcus mutans, by salivary mucins, key components of mucus, reveals research published ahead of print in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The research suggests that bolstering native defenses might be a better way to fight dental caries than relying on exogenous materials, such as sealants and fluoride treatment, says first author Erica Shapiro Frenkel, of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
S. mutans attaches to teeth using sticky polymers that it produces, eventually forming a biofilm, a protected surface-associated bacterial community that is encased in secreted materials, says Frenkel. As S. mutans grows in the biofilm, it produces organic acids as metabolic byproducts that dissolve tooth enamel, which is the direct cause of cavities. “We focused on the effect of the salivary mucin, MUC5B on S. mutans attachment and biofilm formation because these are two key steps necessary for cavities to form,” says Frenkel.