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Coconut oil could combat tooth decay

Coconut oil treated with enzymes stops the growth of the bacteria that causes tooth decay – a problem which affects 60 per cent to 90 per cent of children in industrialised countries.

Image: Phú Thịnh Co via Flickr/Creative Commons

COCONUT OIL CAN help to destroy the bacteria that causes tooth decay, according to a new study.

Scientists at Athlone Institute of Technology found that coconut oil which had been treated with enzymes stopped the growth of Strepococcus bacteria, a major cause of tooth decay.

The research team tested the effects of vegetable oil, coconut oil and olive oil – both in their natural states and when treated with digestive enzymes.

Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology’s conference at the University of Warwick, the team said coconut oil had also been found to attack the yeast Candida albicans, which causes thrush.

Lead researcher Dr Damien Brady said that tooth decay affects 60 per cent – 90 per cent of children in industrialised countries, as well as the majority of adults.

“Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil into dental hygiene products would be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, particularly as 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,” he said.

He said  the work also contributed to a better understanding of 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,”

“Our research has shown that digested milk protein not only reduced the adherence of harmful bacteria to human intestinal cells but also prevented some of them from gaining entrance into the cell. We are currently researching coconut oil and other enzyme-modified foodstuffs to identify how they interfere with the way bacteria cause illness and disease”" he added.

The research – an MSc project is being carried out by Patricia Hughes, supervised by Dr Brady and Prof Neil Rowan at AIT - was supported by the AIT President’s Seed Research Fund, which has invested €750,000 in postgraduate research work since 2010.

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