You are infected with Streptococcus Mutans! – How you can beat this tooth-destroying bug.
By Nurse Mark
James wrote recently to ask us if we could prescribe him an antibiotic or some treatment to deal with strep (streptococcus) mutans – an all-too-common bacteria that is found in the mouth and that contributes to dental decay and other problems.
James texted us to ask:
Can u prescribe me anti biotics for STREP MUTANS
I’ve tried every wholistic treatment i can find
and they have all failed
I’m hoping to knock it out then keep it at bay with continued remedies
What is Streptococcus Mutans?
S mutans is a bacteria that is common in the human oral cavity (the mouth) and it has been detected in children even before they have teeth for it to attack. It is widely recognized as being the main cause of dental caries (cavities). Since the conditions in the human mouth vary widely and tend to be generally quite harsh and toxic to most organisms (though not to us fortunately!) S mutans is a very tough and resilient bacteria – not much bothers it.
Antibiotics tend to not be useful against it, in part because oral S mutans is not a “systemic” infection and in part because any antibiotic powerful enough to deal a blow to this tough bug would also cause widespread and serious side effects and problems in other areas of our bodies – and as we know all too well, the overuse, misuse, and inappropriate use of powerful antibiotics is producing deadly and untreatable “superbugs” at an alarming rate.
S mutans has also been proven to cause bacterial endocarditis – a potentially fatal infection. In this circumstance, powerful antibiotics such as erythromycin, lincomycin, penicillin, methicillin, vancomycin, and tetracycline were found to be the most active, depending upon the exact serotype and strain of S mutans – there are some 82 strains in 7 serotypes that were identified in one research work on antibiotic sensitivity!
Attempts have been made to develop a “vaccine” against it, but these have been unsuccessful – perhaps fortunately, for some research has suggested that S mutans itself may paradoxically produce certain antibodies that inhibit the formation of dental cavities! Also, as we will see, S mutans is but one of many bacteria living in a delicate balance in our mouths – and we know what happens when we upset the balance of nature…
It simply laughs at mouthwashes and “antibacterial rinses”. While brushing and flossing are effective at removing food particles following a meal and at scraping away some of the plaque, Streptococcus mutans is a bacteria – it will come back out of hiding after such oral hygiene and it will continue to thrive, producing it’s tooth-damaging effects 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.
Even so, this bacterial tough-guy is not without chinks in it’s armor – weaknesses that we can exploit as we seek to minimize it’s destruction.
There are some 25 species of Streptococci that are known to inhabit the mouths of healthy people – these bacteria normally live in a delicate balance, each different species (or “tribe” to put it into a different context) living in different areas of the mouth and serving to keep other, competing species at bay and resisting external attacks. If this balance is upset then one species may gain the upper hand and begin to dominate – to the detriment of our oral health.
When Streptococcus mutans gains the upper hand and becomes more prevalent that it should be, dental caries (cavities) are the result. It may also cause other problems, and has even been linked to Sjorgens Syndrome – an auto-immune condition characterized by extreme dry mouth and lack of saliva production.
The main health-damaging effect of S mutans that we are concerned with right now is it’s ability to create both a sticky plaque that coats teeth and to produce an acid that combines with that plaque to demineralize tooth enamel and cause teeth to decay.
How does Streptococcus mutans do it’s “Dirty Work”?
Streptococcus mutans is a very specialized organism that is actually equipped with receptors that allow it to adhere (stick) to the slick surface of our teeth – no small feat!
Once stuck to the teeth S mutans then digests the sugar Sucrose and creates a sticky polysacchride coating that we call plaque. Sucrose is the only sugar that S mutans can use to produce plaque, and even if that was all it did that would be bad enough. “But wait – There’s More!”
S mutans likes other sugars too. Glucose, fructose, and lactose (and others – these are just the main ones that we think of as being “healthy sugars”) are all digested by this hard-working bacteria which then excretes the end product lactic acid.
The combination of this sticky plaque and the lactic acid is what causes tooth decay.
What can be done?
As was mentioned earlier, Streptococcus mutans is a tough bug. Antibiotics are largely ineffective, vaccines useless, and it laughs at our feeble attempts with mouthwashes, toothbrushes, and flossing. Is there no hope at all for our poor, beleaguered teeth?
Perhaps our best way of dealing with Streptococcus Mutans is to not deal with it at all! As we saw, it is not the bacteria that causes the problem, it is the plaque and the lactic acid that it produces that results in tooth decay. Why not just stop it from making plaque and acid?
To make plaque, S Mutans needs the sugar Sucrose.
To make lactic acid, it needs other sugars such as glucose, fructose, and lactose.
Why not simply starve S mutans into submission? Just take away it’s sugar! (That means starches too – for these are quickly converted into sugars by the saliva in your mouth.)
No sugars means no plaque and no acids. No Plaque and no acids means no tooth decay. The math is simple.
Your mom was right when she warned you that all those sugary treats that you loved as a kid would “rot your teeth!” 50 years later I can still hear my mom’s words ringing in my ears, and mom, you were right!
What else can be done?
Xylitol, a “tooth-friendly” non-fermentable sugar alcohol is widely known to inhibit S mutans and to alkalinize saliva in the mouth. It also has properties that actually promote the remineralization of tooth enamel. And it is sweet! What’s not to love?
Xylitol’s beneficial effects are well-known even in conventional medicine and dentistry – there are hundreds of articles in the archives of the conventional medical resource Medscape alone that discuss the benefits of Xylitol and Xylitol gum in preventing dental cavities. Here is an excerpt from just one of those articles – a 39-month study involving 8-year-old children who were given Xylitol gum to chew at school:
CONCLUSIONS: Long-term use of xylitol-containing chewing-gum can reduce the growth of streptococci mutans in saliva and dental plaque, and lactobacilli-type bacteria in saliva, even if xylitol is used only on school days. The results also suggest that xylitol gum use can have a long-term, delayed growth-retarding effect on these micro-organisms, since reduced bacterial growth was still observed 15 months following the termination of xylitol use. http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/18350853
Wow – kids love to chew gum, and Xylitol gum can protect their developing teeth! (And it can protect us older folk too…) This is far better than the toxic flouride treatments that are now being shown to be worse than useless!
What about knocking out the S mutans bug itself?
As we discussed earlier, S mutans is a tough little bug(ger), requiring some risky “Big Guns” antibiotics to kill it. Still, recent research is showing that while there may not currently be any Big Pharma solutions that are both safe and effective, some natural substances are looking very promising:
Curcuminoids, the active part of the spice Turmeric, are being shown to have numerous pharmacological properties, including anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic, anti-mutagenic, anticancer and antimicrobial activities. These studies are promising enough that even Big Pharma has taken notice of this age-old spice! Will we see your turmeric disappear from your grocers spice rack, only to reappear as a prescription-only item at your local pharmacy? Let’s hope not…
It is important to remember though that because S mutans lives in the mouth and on the teeth – not “systemically” – turmeric taken internally in capsule form may not be as effective as turmeric spice in foods or a tea made from the purified and potent turmeric found in supplement capsules and allowed to remain in the mouth, in contact with the S mutans bacteria, before being swallowed.
Licorice root is coming under scientific scrutiny as well. One study found that a compound found in licorice roots, Glycyrrhizol A, had strong antimicrobial activity against cariogenic bacteria like S mutans. Researchers then produced herbal extracts that could kill bacteria such as S. mutans. Subsequent studies on humans showed a reduction of cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria in the oral cavity after eating sugar-free lollipops made with these herbal extracts that contain Glycyrrhizol A.
At this time these experimental “lollipops” are not available – but a product derived from licorice root called Rhizinate 3X is available and has a great soothing effect on the digestive system and “heartburn” or GERD as well as having antimicrobial effects. Since it is chewable (and has a great German Chocolate flavor) we can assume that it will deliver it’s important polyphenol compounds directly to the oral cavity (the mouth) allowing them to work directly on the S mutans bacteria.
Licorice teas are widely available, but be aware that excessive consumption of licorice can cause elevated blood pressure in some individuals.
So, here is a summary of this rather long-winded answer to James’ question:
- Streptococcus mutans is the primary causal agent and the pathogenic species responsible for dental caries (tooth decay or cavities)
- Streptococcus mutans is hardy and resistant to antibiotics, vaccines, mouthwashes, toothbrushes, and flossing.
- Streptococcus mutans metabolizes sucrose to create plaque and glucose, fructose, and lactose to produce lactic acid. These two by-products of sugar metabolism combine to cause dental caries (cavities).
- A diet low in sugars can result in less production of both plaque and lactic acid by the bacteria.
- Xylitol, and specifically Xylitol chewing gum has been proven to reduce the growth of S mutans in plaque and saliva, and can have other benefits as well.
- Curcumins, found in turmeric have been shown to have many beneficial effects, including being antimicrobial in action against S mutans bacteria.
- Licorice root, containing a polyphenol compound called Glycyrrhizol A is being investigated as a potential antimicrobial (like an antibiotic) against the S mutans bacteria.
To make turmeric tea:
- Bring 4 cups of water in a small pot to a boil.
- Add 1 tsp. of turmeric spice or the contents of several turmeric capsules and 1 tsp. of ginger powder or the contents of several ginger capsules to the boiling water and allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes. This will extract the beneficial polyphenolic compounds from the turmeric and ginger. Ginger also has many health benefits.
- Remove the pot from the stove and strain the tea into a cup. The particles of turmeric and ginger will be filtered out.
- To make this tea more palatable you might sweeten with xylitol and add a slice of lemon.
Growth inhibition of Streptococcus mutans with low xylitol concentrations. Curr Microbiol. 2008; 56(4):382-5
Thirty-nine-month xylitol chewing-gum programme in initially 8-year-old school children: a feasibility study focusing on mutans streptococci and lactobacilli. Int Dent J. 2008; 58(1):41-50
Oral Manifestations of Sjogren’s Syndrome http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/584927
Antibacterial compounds from Glycyrrhiza uralensis. J Nat Prod. 2006; 69(1):121-4
Antibiotic Susceptibility of S mutans: Comparison of serotype profiles. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC352679/?page=1
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