Why being vegetarian could be BAD for your teeth: Compound found in meat breaks down dental plaque – and could treat gum disease

A diet rich in meat and dairy products can boost dental health, experts have revealed.

A common amino acid found naturally in certain foods has been shown to break down dental plaque.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Newcastle University believe their discovery could help millions of people avoid cavities and gum disease.


They found L-arginine, which is abundant in red meat, poultry, fish and dairy products, stopped the formation of dental plaques.

The substance is already added to dental products to help treat tooth sensitivity.

Alexander Rickard, assistant professor of epidemiologiy at the University of Michigan, said: ‘This is important as bacteria like to aggregate on surfaces to form biofilms.

‘Dental plaque is a biofilm. Biofilms account for more than 50 per cent of all hospital infections.

‘Dental plaque biofilms contribute to the billions of dollars of dental treatments and office visits every year in the United States.’ …

‘L-arginine is currently being included in certain toothpaste formulations as it is thought to protect against dentine hypersensitivity,’ he said.

‘Our work shows that the same concentrations of L-arginine potentially can control dental plaque, and so may be beneficial in protecting against gum disease.

‘There is no doubt protection against gum disease would be the major potential benefit.

‘L-arginine is cheap and easy to add to toothpaste or mouthwash.

‘At present, around 10 to 15 per cent of adults in the Western world have advanced gum disease, which can lead to loose teeth and even tooth loss.

‘Therefore, there is a clear need for better methods to control dental plaque.’

Dental biofilms are responsible for causing dental caries, or cavities, gingivitis – gum disease – and periodontal disease.

Surveys indicate that nearly 24 per cent of adults in the US and 31 per cent of adults in the UK have untreated dental caries.

In addition around 39 per cent of people in the US have moderate-to-severe periodontitis – a number that rises to 64 per cent for those aged over 65.

In the UK, that figure is 45 per cent.

It is estimated that £3.7 billion is spent on NHS dentistry for adults and children in the UK each year, and around £2.6 billion on private dentistry.

Dental plaque-related diseases such as dental cavities and periodontitis contribute to the vast majority of treatment costs.

Most treatments for dental plaque involve the use of antimicrobial agents, including chlorhexidine, which are chemicals aimed at killing plaque bacteria.

But they can affect sense of taste and stain teeth.

Antimicrobial treatments have been the subject of debate about overuse, in recent years.

Researchers said they need to conduct further studies, to conclude exactly how L-arginine triggers the breakdown of the biofilms.

They said it appears arginine can change how cells stick together, and can trigger bacteria within biofilms to alter how they behave so that they no longer stick to surfaces.

In conducting their research, team members used a model system they introduced in 2013 that mimics the oral cavity.

The researchers were able to grow together the numerous bacterial species found in dental plaque in the laboratory, using natural human saliva.

Professor Rickard, said: ‘Other laboratory model systems use one or a small panel of species.

‘Dental plaque biofilms can contain tens to hundreds of species, hence our model better mimics what occurs in the mouth, giving us great research insight.’

But, while L-arginine is found naturally in various foods, Dr Jakubovics warned their findings only show the amino acid is effective in very high quantities.

‘Our study shows that the effects are only seen at very high concentrations of arginine, such as those that are currently being introduced into certain oral healthcare products,’ he said.

‘There is no evidence yet that lower concentrations found in foods such as red meats would have benefits for removal of dental plaque.’…read more

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