Coconut Oil May Inhibit Bacteria Growth, Preventing Tooth Decay
September 3, 2012

Coconut Oil May Inhibit Bacteria Growth, Preventing Tooth Decay

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Dentists have long encouraged the use of fluoride to prevent cavities and tooth decay. But several studies have also found that other things, such as lollipops, raisins, licorice root and gum, may also help in the fight against tooth decay. And now, a new study is suggesting that coconut oil could also combat tooth decay and could be used in a variety of dental care products.

Scientists from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland found that coconut oil which had been treated with enzymes stopped the growth of Streptococcus bacteria--a major cause of tooth decay. Presenting their findings at the Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference at the University of Warwick, the researchers said coconut oil is a natural antibiotic that could easily be incorporated into commercial dental care products.

Because upwards of 90 percent of children in industrialized countries are faced with tooth decay, the scientists believe the findings are especially significant.

The Irish researchers tested the impact of coconut oil, vegetable oil and olive oil in their natural states and also when treated with enzymes, simulating digestion. They then tested the oils against the Strep bacteria that is commonly found in the mouth. The results showed that only enzyme-enhanced coconut oil had the ability to inhibit the growth of most strains of the bacteria, including the tooth decaying Streptococcus mutans.

The team believes that the breakdown of fatty coconut oil by the enzymes turns it into acids which are active and effective against bacteria. Other research has also suggested that enzyme-modified milk could also stop S. mutans from binding to tooth enamel.

The use of coconut oil in dental care products could be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, noted Dr. Damien Brady, lead researcher in the Irish study. “It works at relatively low concentrations.”

“Also, with increasing antibiotic resistance, it is important that we turn our attention to new ways to combat microbial infection,” added Brady, whose research assistant is Patricia Hughes, a Masters student at Athlone.

The studies also peered into the workings of antibacterial in the human gut.

“Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity. This could have implications for how bacteria colonize the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health,” BBC News cited Brady as saying.

Previous studies have shown that partially digested foodstuffs are active against micro-organisms. The recent enzyme-modified milk study is what prompted the Irish researchers to look at the effect of other enzyme-modified foods on bacteria.

Brady noted that further research will examine how coconut oil interacts with the Strep bacteria at the molecular level and which other strains of harmful bacteria and yeasts it fights actively. Additional testing by the researchers found that the enzyme-enhanced coconut oil was also harmful to the yeast Candida albicans, which causes thrush.