May Prevent Cavities
(HealthScoutNews) -- If you want
to prevent cavities, mind your beeswax.
A substance made by honeybees to protect their hives soon could
become the greatest weapon in fighting cavities since fluoride,
Called propolis,the substance is a sticky, glue-like material
that bees make from the resin of trees and plants and their own
secretions. Researchers say propolis halts an enzyme in streptococcus
mutans, a microorganism found in the mouths of humans and
animals that is the main culprit behind tooth decay.
Bees use propolis to seal holes in their hives and to embalm
predators, including wasps, that have invaded their homes. Propolis
keeps the dead insects from decomposing in the hive and causing
This ability to keep organisms from decomposing is what first
sparked the researchers' interest in the potential propolis might
have as an antiseptic, or antibacterial, agent. Antiseptics reduce
the virulence of bacteria or kill enough of it so the human immune
system can get rid of it, says Dr. Michel Hyun Koo, a dentist
at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.
In a laboratory test, rats that were given a mouthwash containing
propolis twice a day had 60 percent fewer cavities than rats given
a mouthwash that didn't contain propolis, Koo says. Rats get cavities
the same way humans do, he adds. Koo and his colleagues have been
gathering propolis from beehives in Brazil to use in their laboratory
"The potential is enormous," Koo says. "So far,
we haven't found any other agent that is as effective as this
Propolis will not, however, replace fluoride, he adds.
"The idea would be to use both," Koo says, noting that
the two fight cavities in entirely differently ways.
Fluoride helps replenish enamel that's been lost to decay. Researchers
believe propolis works by inhibiting an enzyme, called glucosyltransferase,
in streptococcus mutans, which is key to the buildup of
plaque on teeth. [Koo describes plaque as a biofilm that coats
the teeth not unlike slime on a boat hull.]
The enzyme aids the formation of plaque by creating molecules,
called glucans, which become the building blocks of plaque. The
structure of the biofilm enables bacteria to collect on it and
latch onto teeth, Koo says. Cavities form when bacteria metabolize
sugar, producing lactic acid that eats away at the enamel.
"If you knock out the enzyme, you prevent dental plaque
formation," Koo says. "If you prevent dental plaque
formation, you prevent cavities."
But before a propolis mouthwash is ready for market, more research
has to be done, he adds.
Propolis is highly complex and contains more than 40 compounds.
The amount of each compound varies with the type of bee, and even
from hive to hive, he says.
The challenge for researchers is to isolate the active ingredients
that combat streptococcus mutans. The University of Rochester
and the State University of Campinas in Brazil have applied for
a patent on two compounds in propolis that Koo believes are largely
responsible for preventing cavities. He would not reveal the precise
names of the compounds.
Propolis has been used by humans for thousands of years. Egyptians
used it in the mummification process, and today, lotions and creams
touting the power of propolis to heal cuts are popular in Europe
and Japan. Propolis also is used as a food additive, and some
studies say propolis is an antioxidant.
Dr. Martin Taubman, a dentist and professor of oral biology at
the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and head of immunology at
the Forsyth Institute in Boston, says propolis looks promising.
"Apparently, it's effective," he says.
But Taubman and his colleagues are working on another method
of fighting cavities: a vaccine that would target streptococcus
The goal is to give children who are between 12 and 24 months
old an anticavity vaccine that would prevent tooth decay throughout
their lives, Taubman says. The vaccine, which would be squirted
into the nose, would stimulate the body's immune system to make
antibodies against the bacterial enzyme, thereby neutralizing
the destructive activity, he says.
What to Do: For information on cavity prevention geared
specifically for kids, visit the
Healthy Teeth Web site. Grown-ups may be happier with information
American Dental Association.
Reference Source 101