Is An Amino Acid Our Next Dental Defender?

McKinney dentist Dr. Paul Lawrence knows that some of the worst foes we face are microscopic bacteria. The McKinney Dental team was intrigued to learn about a new study in which an amino acid is considered for deployment against bacterial invaders: arginine.

Building blocks of proteins

Amino acids are the the fundamental units of proteins that our bodies build to perform such critical biological functions as cell signaling, regulation, and structure. We don’t synthesize all the amino acids we need to live, which is why some of them are called “essential”– we have to obtain them from outside sources: food.

Arginine is actually considered “semi-essential,” because healthy adults are able to synthesize it in their bodies, but people at other developmental stages of life are unable to create their own. Preterm infants, for example, need supplementation of this amino acid. Arginine can be found in a wide range of foods, from animal sources like poultry, fish, and dairy; to plant sources like wheat germ, granola, peanuts and many tree nuts, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas and soybeans.

Researchers are now examining arginine as a potential cavity fighter.

For a tiny invader, send a tiny army

Despite arginine’s humble status as a small, simple protein building block, it may be just right for breaking down bacterial barriers. Scientists teaming up from Newcastle University and the University of Michigan are researching the amino acid’s anti-bacterial mechanisms, and they’ve found that arginine works by destroying bacterial biofilms— or plaque.

Biofilms are masses of bacteria huddled together within a sticky extracellular matrix for protection. In fact, it is one of bacteria’s classic defense mechanisms (safety in numbers being their motto.) A biofilm can be hard to for antibiotics or hygiene measures to penetrate, making it one of the most widely seen sources of infection in hospitals, and of course, a common problem in oral health, where biofilms show up as plaque.

The study is still underway, but according to researchers, arginine beats biofilms by inhibiting cellular aggregation– basically, stopping individual bacterium’s from getting close to their buddies and secreting their protective ooze.

For biofilms, a darker future may be on the horizon

Arginine is already an ingredient in anti-sensitivity tooth products, but not specifically as an antimicrobial agent. Currently, dental plaque is controlled by antibacterials like chlorhexidine and other biocides; substances that have unpleasant side effects, like altered taste or stained teeth. Scientists hope to learn more about arginine’s antibiofilm mechanism so they can harness the amino acid’s abilities and employ it as a less abrasive antimicrobial tool.

Currently, dental disease is one of the most widespread afflictions impacting people today: it is seen in virtually everywhere in the world. Dental plaque causes cavities, periodontitis, and gingivitis– all of which can result in pain, tooth loss, and even bone loss. Finding new ways to combat the devastating effects of dental disease would improve the lives and health of countless people.

Count on dental health with your McKinney dentist

Researchers are hard at work looking for ways to improve dental health– and so are we. At McKinney Smiles,  you can count on up-to-date science and cutting edge professional training to obtain and maintain your optimal dental health.

Contact us for your next appointment today!

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