Do Cranberries Fight Cavities? Yeah, Sort Of

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As you swill red wine in this holiday season, and maybe slurp up some leftover cranberry sauce, think about this interesting fact: Compounds in those two red foods appear to inhibit the bacteria that cause cavities in your teeth.

Microbiologist (and dentist) Hyun Koo at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York published this revelation earlier this year.

We all know our mouths are germ factories. But you can’t just wipe 'em all out. "There are beneficial and pathogenic organisms" in the human mouth, Koo told MyHealthNewsDaily.

The microbial villain in tooth decay is streptococcus mutans. The bacteria break down sugar in the food we eat and turn it into gooey compounds called glucans, which help the bacteria stick to teeth and form a matrix (sort of a condominium for tooth-attacking germs). The bacteria also release acids that damage the tooth surface.

Koo gave cavity-prone rats a cranberry extract rich in anti-oxidants called proanthocyanidins. The compounds appear to foil the bacteria’s ability to make glucans and acid, preventing the evil germs from hanging around, while also letting beneficial bacteria thrive.

In fact, in Koo's rats, glucans and acids were strongly inhibited, and cavities were reduced by 45 percent, according to a study published in the dental journal Caries Research.

Previous research has seen a similar effect from polyphenols, an anti-oxidant found in red wine.

So bring on the fine cabernet and the Cape Cod cocktails! No, wait, there’s a catch. Wine and cranberries also contain sugar and acids that hurt the teeth. Koo wants to save teeth by creating a medicinal extract from wine and cranberries, which sounds like no fun at all.

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