Written on Thursday, February 21, 2008 by Gemini
Researchers create an innovative treat; appeasing a sweet tooth while attacking bacteria that cause dental decay
Researchers at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) hope that they have created a tooth-friendly lollipop just as appealing as any other. Dentistry professor and microbiologist Wenyuan Shi discovered an ingredient from licorice roots that combats a main bacterium that causes tooth decay; and this ingredient is now infused and available in a sugar-free, orange-flavoured, bacteria-killing lollipop.
The licorice root extract in his lollipop can effectively kill Streptococcus mutans, a common bacterium that could release harmful cavity-causing acids. “Only 15 milligrams of licorice powder per lollipop eliminates 99.9 per cent of this bacteria in the mouth within five to 10 minutes,” Shi said.
Before the growth of cavities, harmful bacteria in the mouth produce acids that create holes in the outermost layer of the teeth. “Streptococcus mutans is one of the more virulent cavity-causing bacteria, and the licorice root extract specifically kills only the harmful bacteria in the mouth, not other beneficial bacteria,” said Aria Eshraghi, a microbiology graduate student who worked with Shi in the past. Since the inception of the project, it has not been easy for Shi and his researchers to meet the stringent expectations of this project, wherein they have tried to use medical rather than surgical approaches to combat tooth decay.
The lollipops had to not only please consumers, but also garner positive feedback from many other groups such as clinical trials and research staff, Shi said. There are reasons why the special licorice root is extracted and pulverised into a lollipop. The lollipop form gives fewer chances for consumers to choke, so it is better than a candy or gum form. Also, for candy or gum, the ingredient could only be released briefly, making them less effective than the longer-lasting lollipop, Shi said.
“One thing I definitely find interesting is the approach they are taking to treat cavities. Instead of putting the drug into a pill or a treatment from the dentist, they put it into a lollipop, which makes it appealing to children and adults,” Eshraghi said. Shi’s lollipop was originally targeted to special needs people who have trouble brushing their teeth, said Dr Maxwell Anderson, president and CEO of C3 Jian, the company that sells the lollipop online.But clinical trials revealed positive testing results from schoolchildren and the elderly.According to data from US’ Centres for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, young children and the elderly are the most susceptible to cavities, Anderson said.
“I think the technology is simply awesome. It is also very nice to see that (companies) have taken an interest,” Eshraghi said. The gradual public attention he and his research have been receiving is only the start, Shi believes.He sees his lollipop as part of a trend toward medicined dentistry, which means less surgical approaches to dental problems, he said.The lollipop is now available online for anyone to buy at C3 Jian’s Web site: www.c3-jian.com.Within the next year, Shi thinks that they could be in medical stores. “We do find it is a very rewarding experience; it can actually benefit society,” Shi said. “The project is a rewarding experience in terms of working in a big industry.”