Scientists tested coconut oil against Streptococcus mutans – a sugar-loving bacterium that clings to teeth and produces acid causing them to rot. When the oil was treated with digestive enzymes it became a powerful killer of the bug.
It paves the way for toothpastes and mouthwashes containing coconut as an active ingredient. Lead researcher Dr Damien Brady, of the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, said: ‘Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60 to 90 per cent of children and the majority of adults in industrialised countries.
‘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.’
He added that his findings could prove to be important considering the problem of bugs’ increasing resistance to many existing antibiotic treatments.Dr Brady’s experiments were inspired by previous research showing that partially digested milk made S. mutans less likely to stick to tooth enamel.He said: ‘Our data suggests that products of human digestion show antimicrobial activity.
‘This could have implications for how bacteria colonise the cells lining the digestive tract and for overall gut health.’ He now plans to check if the enzyme-treated coconut oil has any other killer qualities.Tests already suggest it combats Candida albicans, which causes thrush, the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn conference heard.