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Thanksgiving Trimming May Be Tooth-Friendly

Cranberries may contain a compound that prevents decay, a team of researchers says.

November 24, 2005|Delthia Ricks | Newsday

MELVILLE, N.Y. — 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 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 was likely that the same chemical traits that for years had made cranberry juice a formidable weapon against urinary tract infections also rendered it a credible tool in the war against dental plaque. So far, the Rochester, N.Y., scientists have explored the effects of cranberries against 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 Wednesday. "However, the cranberry may likely affect other organisms associated with dental plaque, [such as] other oral streptococci."

He suspects that cranberries might have the capacity to antagonize two other nasty microorganisms: E. coli and H. pylori, but he has yet to conduct tests to determine whether this hunch is true.

For years scientists have known that cranberry juice inhibits bladder infections by preventing microorganisms from adhering to the organ's wall.

The National Institutes of Health, as a result, has mounted a major research effort examining the health effects of cranberries.

At Rutgers University in New Jersey, plant pathologist Nicholi Vorsa, director of the Blueberry and Cranberry Research Center, is working closely with Koo to isolate the compounds in cranberry juice that prove most protective.

It is the ability of cranberry juice to inhibit the ability of bacteria to stick to surfaces that has most captured Koo's attention. "Perhaps the same is true in the mouth, where bacteria use adhesion molecules to hold onto teeth," he said.

But don't think that gulping down a glass of cranberry juice will spare your teeth. Koo warns that most commercial cranberry juices contain sugar, a culprit in dental decay.

His hope is to isolate the key component in cranberries that act against bacteria, ultimately using that compound in a dental rinse.

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