Scientists identify key chemical that could prevent tooth decay

Research could help to develop more effective oral health treatments

Image Research could help to develop more effective oral health treatments
Oral care products containing a natural chemical that stops bacteria harming teeth could help prevent decay, a University of Edinburgh study suggests. The study shows that it blocks the action of a key enzyme that allows the bacteria to thrive in oral cavities.
The team used the remote data collection capabilities on one of Diamond’s five macromolecular crystallography beamlines, I04, to determine the 3D atomic structure of a bacterial enzyme Sortase A. This enzyme creates a protective layer around bacterial cells, preventing them from being destroyed. Using this information, the team successfully identified the mechanisms by which a natural compound called trans-chalcone prevents the protective enzyme from functioning and thus enables the bacteria to be destroyed.
Trans-chalcone is related to chemicals found in liquorice root. Because of its effect on the bacteria’s protective enzyme, the natural plant product couple help to improve oral health by helping to prevent the build-up of plaque, researchers say.
Streptococcus mutans is a type of bacteria that metabolises sugars from food and drink; this process produces a mild acid and leads to the formation of plaque. Without good dental hygiene, the combination of plaque and mouth acid can lead to tooth decay.
Researchers found that blocking the activity of the enzyme prevents bacteria forming a protective biological layer, known as a biofilm, around themselves. Plaque is formed when bacteria attach themselves to teeth and construct biofilms. Preventing the assembly of these protective layers could help stop bacteria forming plaque; and so oral care products that contain similar natural compounds could help to improve dental hygiene. The study is the first to show how trans-chalcone prevents bacteria forming biofilms.
Whilst Diamond is in Oxfordshire, the team were able to remain in Scotland and remotely operate the beamline using robotics.
The study, published in the journal Chemical Communications, was supported by Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company and the University of Edinburgh.
Dr Dominic Campopiano, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, who led the study, said: “We were delighted to observe that trans-chalcone inhibited Sortase A in a test tube and stopped Streptococcus mutans biofilm formation. We are expanding our study to include similar natural products and investigate if they can be incorporated into consumer products. This exciting discovery highlights the potential of this class of natural products in food and healthcare technologies.”