|MadSci Network: Microbiology|
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treptococcus mutans is one of the estimated 300 bacterial species that live in the mouth. It is considered to be the major causative agent of the dental caries (cavities). Streptococcus is a latin name that means "chain of spheres." It is under this form that we find Streptococcus mutans. S. mutans produces a sticky polymer of sugars that acts like a cement and binds the bacterial cells together and allows them to adhere to the tooth surface. This kind of glue is produced only in the presence of the dissacharide sucrose (or saccharose), present in the confections. The bacteria possess an enzyme that splits the sucrose molecules into their component monosaccharides: glucose and fructose. The glucose units are linked to form the glue while the fructose is used by the bacteria as nutrient. The eating of the fructose by the S. mutans cause the formation of a waste called lactic acid. This acid can etch the surface of the teeth and make the cavities. Some other genera of bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Actinomyces can help S. mutans in this phenomenon.
The dental caries is not the only problem of buccal health. Another one is the dental plaque that is an accumulation of bacteria on the teeth (it contains about 100 millions bacteria per milligram). The only way to avoid dental caries and plaque is to brush your teeth after each meal, and after each time you eat if you do so between meals, particularly if you eat something containing sugar. Brushing allow to remove the bacteria from the teeth surface forcing them to reinitiate their work.
Maybe you heard about some chewing gum that reduce dental caries. These chewing gums contain, instead of sucrose, another sugar (called dentek of xylitol) that have a good taste, but that S. mutans cannot digest. This is a way to reduce dental caries, but it should not be taken alone. In fact, this chewing gum does not remove dental plaque, so it's better to use it in combination with teeth brushing, regular flossing, and visits to your dentist.
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