Cranberries could prevent dental disease

&to=' target=_blank>Cranberries, the reliable but simple staple on Thanksgiving Day tables, may contain an infection-fighting compound that prevents tooth decay prompted by the holiday's desserts.

Years of work by a team of researchers at the University of Rochester has begun to yield a host of new clues about the medicinal benefits of the deep red berry.

Dr. Michel Koo, an oral biologist and food scientist at the university's medical center, said it is very likely that the same chemical traits that for years have made cranberry juice a formidable weapon against urinary tract infections also render it a credible tool in the war against dental plaque. So far, the Rochester scientists have explored the effects of cranberries against only one bacterial species. But that bug, they say, is a key agent in dental disease.

"In the dental field, we have looked at Streptococcus mutans only, the main bacterium associated with dental cavities," Koo said yesterday. "However, the cranberry may likely affect other organisms associated with dental plaque, [such as] other oral streptococci," reports Newsday.

According to Reuters AlertNet, Koo warned people against drinking or eating excessive amounts of cranberry-containing products. "The biggest problem with any cranberry product is the (food) industry -- they add sugar," he said. "Sugar is the main enemy in causing cavities."

The fruit is also loaded with natural acid that can strip away essential minerals in teeth, he added.

"At this stage you have the other negative factors ... that prevent us from saying 'go ahead and swish with cranberry juice,'" Koo said. During the study, researchers coated a synthetic material that acts like tooth enamel, called hydroxyapatite, with cranberry juice. They then applied the cavity-causing bacteria streptococcus mutans, plaque, or glucan -- a type of enzyme that builds plaque.

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