***UPDATED: June 2, 2015*** A recent study found that the natural chemicals found in licorice roots might assist in the prevention of tooth decay. The chemical compound, trans-chalcone, blocks the action of a key enzyme, Sortase A, which enables bacteria to thrive in oral cavities. The bacteria, Streptoccocus mutans, is know to metabolize sugar from food and drinks, and producing a mild acid that results in plaque formation. If the plaque is not removed through proper dental care, tooth decay will eventually form. According to a recent article from Dentistry Today, researchers were able to determine that by blocking Sortase A, the bacteria was unable to form a protective biological layer. This study, conducted at the Univerisity of Edinburgh, is the first of its kind in demonstrating how trans-chalcone protects against the formation of bacterial biofilms.
For years, Chinese traditional medicine has been using the dried root of the licorice plant as a natural way of treating various ailments, such as digestive and respiratory issues. Despite this, there have been few scientific studies done in recent years to prove if licorice can really work as a treatment. Recently however, a study conducted by the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, has identified two substances found in licorice that kill the bacteria that causes gum disease and tooth decay, as reported in the Medical News Today article, “Dried Licorice Root Fights The Bacteria That Cause Tooth Decay And Gum Disease.”
Before you get too excited and run out to buy as many licorice ropes as possible, continue reading. Licorice candy is very popular in the U.S., but the root which contains the two bacteria fighting compounds, has been replaced in the candy with anise oil, which has a very similar taste. There are also few less-than-desirable side effects that accompany the use of licorice root, and it can react with current prescription drugs too. The two compounds, licoricidin and licorisoflavan A, were found to be successful in killing the two major bacteria that cause dental cavities and promote gum disease. Licoricidin was also effective in fighting a third gum disease causing bacterium, leading researchers to believe that these substances could be used in the prevention and/or treatment of oral issues.
While the research is both interesting and useful, you should always check with your health care provider before beginning a new medical or dental treatment, like using licorice root. Brushing, flossing, and regular visits to your sedation dentist are still the best preventative care measures that you can take.