Two researchers in The Netherlands have discovered a way to prevent plaque buildup in the mouth. Two professors at the University of Groningen say brushing your teeth is still important, but they expect the chance of getting a cavity to drop drastically.
Inhibit the Enzyme that Makes Plaque Stick
These scientists uncovered the workings and structure of the enzyme that causes plaque to stick to the teeth. This can lead to developing ways keep that enzyme from performing its function. Once a substance of that nature has been developed, it could be added to items like food or toothpaste to prevent that enzyme from allowing plaque to adhere to the teeth.
How Bacteria Use the Enzymes
A certain bacteria in the mouth uses this particular enzyme, called glucansucrase, to turn sugar into long, sticky chains. The bacteria attach themselves to the surface of the teeth with this sticky substance. At this point, the bacteria interact with the sugar to produce acids, which eat away at the tooth’s surface. This is how cavities develop.
An article at Medical News Today entitled “Breakthrough in Dental Plaque Research” explains that:
Using protein crystallography, the researchers were able to elucidate the three dimensional (3D) structure of the enzyme. The Groningen researchers are the first to succeed in crystallizing glucansucrase. The crystal structure has revealed that the folding mechanism of the protein is unique. The various domains of the enzyme are not formed from a single, linear amino acid chain but from two parts that assemble via a U-shaped structure of the chain; this is the first report on such a folding mechanism in the literature. . . The enzyme splits sucrose into fructose and glucose and then adds the glucose molecule to a growing sugar chain.
How the Discovery Affects Dental Plaque
Since researchers know how the enzyme creates the glucose chain, they can now determine how to prevent that process from happening. Scientists have tried to prevent it by several other methods in the past, but their efforts typically also blocked other important enzyme functions from taking place. This new understanding can help researchers target the glucansucrase enzyme more specifically.