Study Cites Coconut Oil as New Way to Fight Tooth Decay

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An Irish study suggests that coconut oil when digested acts like an antibiotic and might represent a new way to fight the bacteria responsible for tooth decay. Subsequent tests found it also harmful to the yeast that causes oral thrush. For patients with medical disorders linked to higher-than-normal rates of cavities, the potential commercial applications are important.

Researchers from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland presented their findings at a conference of the Society for General Microbiology. They tested the potential antibacterial effects of coconut oil both in its natural state and after treatment with enzymes similar to those in the digestive process, Medical News Today reports.

Among advocates of complementary medicine, coconut oil has been credited with many health benefits. CoconutOil.com cites improving the condition of Alzheimer's patients, achieving positive results for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and alleviating suffering from hypothyroidism. It also mentions boosting metabolism, promoting thyroid health, losing weight, and fostering healthy skin and hair.

Coconut oil is a product from the nut of the coconut palm. Proponents believe it contains a healthy form of fatty acid the body can quickly burn. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, the oil might help reduce waist size but doesn't result in significant weight loss or lower body mass index.

When it comes to going to the dentist for a filling, many Americans dread the appointment because of the cost, not just anticipated discomfort. Among those 20 to 64 years old, 92 percent have caries in their permanent teeth, says the National Institute of Dental and Cranial Research. Dental decay is a process dentists refer to as dental caries. Cavities are the end result.

Although cavities were rare in my family, I have more than average due to absorption problems with Vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients as the result of Crohn's disease. Since I must avoid raw fruits and vegetables, I don't get the abrasive cleaning action eating these foods provides. I also periodically develop thrush because of one of my medications. I half-jokingly say I've paid for at least one of my dentist's exam rooms through fillings alone.

The Irish researchers found that coconut oil treated with digestive-type enzymes significantly slowed the growth of most strains of Streptococcus bacteria, including S. mutans, a major culprit associated with tooth decay. They envision further studies at the molecular level to determine whether the oil is effective against other types of bacteria and yeasts and to better understand antibacterial activity in the human digestive tract.

The implications of coconut oil as a new way to fight tooth decay are enormous for the oral healthcare marketplace. Experts believe it would be easy to add the oil to dental hygiene products because it's effective at relatively low concentrations.

Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.

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