Biofilm Research is having an important moment in research. Not long ago, Dentistry for Children brought you the basic facts of biofilm. Now, some of our blogs are family-oriented.
We bring you the best tips for your children’s dental health. Often our blogs are even geared to our youngest readers with youthful themes and cartoonish illustrations.
However, this week’s blog article takes a deeper dive into some of the more advanced research into defeating biofilm. You might not find it as entertaining as some of our blogs. But you will find it extremely informative.
A Quick Review of Biofilm Basics
You see, if that slick stuff that naturally builds up on your child’s teeth is not adequately brushed and flossed away, it becomes plaque. Then, it invites cavities.
Plaque is difficult to remove. In fact, removal requires a professional touch. So, that is why a regular visit to your dental hygienist is so important.
The hygienist can deep clean teeth and free them from the build-up of plaque before early childhood cavities (ECC) sets in.
Biofilm Research Back-up
Before giving you the latest updates in biofilm research, let’s review the backstory.
A few years ago scientists from Penn’s School of Dental Medicine discovered the deep secrets of the nature of biofilm. They realized that the biofilm or dental plaque that causes early childhood cavities (ECC) is a double-edged sword.
They saw that biofilm is made of 2 species of disgusting micro-organisms.
- Biofilm contains a bacterial species, with an ugly name, Streptococcus mutans.
- It also is home to a fungus with an equally distasteful name, Candida albicans.
The bacteria and the fungus create a sticky symbiotic relationship. It’s that distasteful sticky coating you sense most when you first awaken. Scientists realized that put together, these organisms become “extremely virulent and difficult to displace from the tooth surface.” A quick brushing does not get rid of it.
In other words, the bacteria and the fungus stick like super glue. First, they stick to each other and then, to the surface of the tooth.
Fast Forward the Future: Biofilm Research Unlocking More Secrets
Recently a great study from the same Penn group discovered a new strategy to disrupt the biofilm. Now, they still can’t just kill it, but they can weaken it. Read on to understand why and how.
To put it simply, they target “the yeast-bacterial interactions that make ECC plaques so intractable.” This is important because “some current treatments for ECC,“ use antimicrobial agents that can harm delicate healthy tissues.
However, the newest “treatment uses an enzyme specific to the bonds that exist between microbes.”
Biofilm Research Scientists Attack the Super-Glue Scum
To keep the sticky biofilm from encouraging early childhood cavities, the scientists began with an important proposal.
Geelsu Hwang is an assistant professor in Penn Dental Medicine and senior author of the study. He proposed the theory. “We thought this could be a new way of approaching the problem of ECCs that would intervene in the synergistic interaction between bacteria and yeast…”
To clarify, they sought to use an enzyme to break the bonds between the two organisms. Geelsu Hwang added, “This offers us another tool for disrupting this virulent biofilm.”
Deep Dental Details to Disrupt Biofilm
1. In 2017, Hwang’s team found that molecules on the termed “mannans,” were on the Candida cell wall. Their function was to bind an enzyme, secreted by S. mutans.
They referred to the enzyme that bound them and its transfer process, as glycosytransference. For obvious reasons, they also shortened the name of the enzyme to Gftb.
2. “Thus In addition to facilitating the cross-kingdom binding, Gftb also contributes to the stubbornness of dental biofilms…”
You see, their biofilm research proved the Gftb manufactures “glue-like polymers called glucans in the presence of sugars.” (Thus, we see another reason to limit children’s sugary snacks.)
Biofilm Research Meet the Mannans in Battle
The biofilm researchers targeted the interaction between yeast and bacteria by targeting “the mannans in the Candida cell surface as a point of contact.”
They did not intend to murder the mannans or the bacteria or the yeast. The precise intention of their experiments was to degrade and weaken the glue that held them to the surface of your children’s teeth.
The purpose of the biofilm research became the weakening of the biofilm bond. If they could weaken the bonds, children could more easily brush, floss, and rinse it away.
The Biofilm Experiment: Breaking it Down With Enzymes
We thought you might find the experiments fascinating. First, the scientists selected three different mannan-degrading enzymes. Then they commenced experimentation.
- They grew biofilm on a tooth-like surface in a human saliva medium.
- They added the enzymes and timed them carefully for five minutes.
Conclusions to the Enzyme Experiments
Victory! After the enzyme treatment, they noticed that the volume of biofilm lessened.
- Then biofilm research went into the microscopic study. Much to their delight, the scientists also observed thinning in the biofilm. Plus, there were fewer interactions between the bacteria and yeast. That means less plaque and ultimately fewer cavities in children’s teeth.
- Likewise, they discovered the pH of the “surrounding medium was higher when exposed to the enzymes, indicating an environment that is not as acidic and thus less conducive to tooth decay.”
The Best Biofilm Busting News of All
Perhaps best of all, they discovered new ease in breaking up the biofilm after enzyme treatment. That means brushing teeth will rebuff the growth of the biofilm more easily.
“The biofilm structure was more fragile after the enzyme treatment,” Hwang explained, “We were able to see that the biofilms were more easily removed.”
The Deepest Dive into the Dental Details
Just in case you have a highly curious and scientific mind, let’s summarize the biofilm research group’s proof of concept.
“To confirm the mechanism of their approach — that the mannan-degrading enzymes were weakening the binding between yeast and bacteria — the team used atomic-force microscopy to measure the bonds between Candida and Gftb.”
Then, they put the proof into impressive mathematical terms. “The therapy, they found, reduced this binding force by 15-fold.” That might be just enough to prevent multiple cavities from becoming part of your child’s life experience.
One More Check-and-Balance Test for Biofilm and Enzyme
Because they wanted to be certain the enzymes were safe as well as effective, the scientists checked their effects in an extended experiment.
Thus, they applied the enzymes to human gingival (gum) cells in cultures. And they found no impact.
That meant the enzymes would not harm delicate gums or mouth tissues. Likewise, they noted that the enzyme treatment did not kill the bacteria or the yeast. It just minimized their ability to create that strong glue.
This also means that the enzymes would be effective against mutations of the microbes that build the biofilm.
Time Will Tell Us More Secrets Beyond the Biofilm
Do you remember the five minutes of treatment time we mentioned in the experiment above? In future biofilm research, the scientists hope to shorten those 5 minutes.
Why? Because the best brushing time for very young children is probably the basic required 2 minutes. Hwang states, “ they may consider a non-alcohol-based mouthwash with these enzymes added that could be used by children as a preventive measure against ECC.”
The Great Take-Away from Biofilm Research
More biofilm research will ensue. Thus, scientists are hoping to give parents and caregivers another weapon with which to fight the burgeoning public health threat of early childhood cavities.
Here at Dentistry For Children, we highly anticipate more insights into biofilm research. Don’t worry, we will let you know what else happens with this new discovery.
We hope for a simple enzyme-rich mouth rinse that could provide a key to the epidemic of caries,(tooth decay) in early childhood. Such a rinse could break down the biofilm and lead to cleaner mouths.
Finally, you would see less painful dentistry in your child’s future. Biofilm research could win the battle against biofilm and early childhood tooth decay.
However, until we have this additional weapon, just remind your kids: Brush, Floss, Rinse. Repeat. And do it for two minutes twice a day.