Up until very recently, the salivary mucins found in the mouth’s natural mucus supply, mucins which are large glycoproteins that make up the .5% of saliva that isn’t water, were thought only to serve as a lubrication system for the inside of the mouth, acting as a natural gel, so to speak. New evidence indicates that these glycoproteins may actually fight the pathogens in the mouth that form cavities, which would be a revolutionary new way of perceiving what has always been considered an essentially inert liquid in one’s mouth.
Principal investigator Katharina Ribbeck, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author Erica Shapiro Frenkel, of Harvard University, both of Cambridge, MA, have published a joint paper in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 1
The natural defenses of the body may be more effective against cavities than applied treatments like toothpaste, sealants or anything containing fluoride.
The interesting thing revealed by the research is that the cavity-causing bacteria are not reduced in number by the presence of the salivary mucins. Over a 24-hour period, the number of S. Mutans does not diminish. Rather, they are kept literally suspended within a liquid medium by the salivary mucins, and this is what stops them in their tracks. They can’t, from a suspended state, easily form biofilms on the surface of teeth.
According to Frenkel, S. Mutans can only form cavities when they have attached by means of a biofilm to the surface of the teeth. A biofilm is a group of microorganisms that stick together in a pool of their ‘EPS,’ or extracellular polymeric substance -something essentially like slime.
Frenkel says each and every benign bacteria in the mouth is best preserved when allnaturally occurring bacteria within the mouth are allowed to remain. “The ideal situation is simply to attenuate bacterial virulence.” 1
After S. mutans successfully adheres to the surface of a tooth by creating a biofilm out of its own sticky polymeric slime, it almost inevitably leads to the process of tooth decay. The bacteria’s growth within the biofilm produces organic acids as byproducts of its own metabolism, which in turn react with the surface of the tooth and cause cavities.
In their study, the researchers were concentrated on the problem of measuring the salivary mucin MUC5B’s capacity as a buffer against S. mutans when adhering to the surface of tooth enamel and forming the biofilm. These two steps are essential in the formation of cavities, says Frenkel.
The study had evolved from other prior work examining the gastric mucins in pigs that acted as protection in a similar way in the lungs. The researchers speculated that salivary mucins could serve a similar purpose in the mouth.
Frenkel says many common diseases like cystic fibrosis, ulcerative colitis and asthma have been found to have links with improper mucin levels. 1
She asserts that all the evidence is pointing to a totally new way of seeing things; one in which mucins are not just a lubrication for the mouth, or a biological form of physical protection, but something else entirely. Now these mucins may actually be actively regulating the environment of the mouth, limiting what lives there to a benign and healthy zone.
Professor Ribbeck says such research is crucial due to the fact that it alters views within the scientific community on the nature of a host and its resident microbes. She even considers it a paradigm shift – no longer shall the typical view of mucus as a suspension film for random particles be acceptable. There is now a much deeper sense growing that mucus is a far more complicated bioactive material with a robust capacity to affect the surrounding microbes in its environment.
Written by Dr. George Sahakyan
1 – http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285285.php