Eating certain foods and avoiding other types of foods has often been recommended to protect the health of the teeth and gums. Some foods, most notably sugar, contribute to tooth decay and cavities. But, others can prove to be beneficial for the health of the mouth. A study conducted at the University of Michigan and Newcastle University and published in PLOS ONE in May 2015 found that L-Arginine, an amino acid, helps break down dental plaque, helping to reduce a person’s risk for cavities and gum disease.
What is It?
L-arginine is a type of amino acid. It’s a semi-essential amino acid, meaning that the human body is able to produce it on its own after a certain age, but that the body doesn’t produce an adequate amount of the amino acid. People typically get a sufficient amount of L-arginine through their diets.
The scientists working on the study that was published in PLOS ONE knew that L-arginine had some impact on the metabolism of bacteria. Using the information they had about the amino acid, they put forth a two part hypothesis. They guessed that the amino acid would be able to alter the biofilm development of multiple species of bacteria and that it would break apart multi-species biofilms. They also guess that the amino acid would be able to work with and improve the effectiveness of other antibacterial products, which on their own are unable to break down biofilms.
While adding L-arginine to a cell-free saliva sample didn’t have much of an antibacterial effect, the presence of the amino acid did change the structure of the biofilm. Certain bacteria increased in population when L-arginine was introduced to the sample, while other types of bacteria, particularly Gram-negative bacteria, decreased in population.
The scientists also found when small concentration (0.01 percent) of cetylpyridinium chloride was used in combination with the L-arginine, the cetylpyridinium chloride was better able to seep into the biofilm and to kill bacteria. The study’s findings suggest that adding the amino acid to antibacterial mouth rinses can increase the efficiency of those products. It also suggests that the amino acid can play a part in preventing the development of plaque on the teeth. What the scientists didn’t uncover was why the amino acid is able to do what it does.
Where Do You Find it?
Since it is an amino acid, L-arginine naturally occurs in a variety of foods. Particularly good sources for it include red meat, chicken products, and fish. It’s also found in dairy products, such as cheese. Usually, people who eat meat and dairy should be able to get an adequate amount of the amino acid from their diet.
Although dietary sources of L-arginine aren’t mentioned in the study, some of the news articles published after the study was released seemed to raise frightening alarm bells for people who follow a vegetarian diet, suggesting that the diet increases the risk for cavities or gum disease.
While not eating meat does limit your sources of L-arginine somewhat, it is still possible to find the amino acid in some plant based foods. It’s found in beans, for example, as well as nuts and some green vegetables.
While you can find the amino acid in foods, it can also be added to oral care products and be used to help protect the teeth that way. While it’s not yet an additive in toothpaste available over the counter, some in-office treatments designed to help people with sensitive teeth do contain it.
What Else You Can Do
Along with eating more foods that are a good source of the amino acid, you can take a few other steps to continue to protect your teeth from decay or gum disease. Always brush twice daily and floss each day to keep plaque build up to a minimum and to remove any food bits or other debris the surface of your teeth and from between your teeth.
Whether you have a history of gum disease or not, seeing a periodontist at least once a year for a check-up can help you spot the early signs of the disease and treat it with a minimally invasive, non-surgical treatment, before it becomes a major issue.
In the Miami area, periodontists Dr. John Paul Gallardo can evaluate your teeth and gums, recommend the appropriate treatment, and give you advice on ways to minimize your risk for gum disease. To schedule a consultation with the periodontists today, call (305) 447-1447.