A group of dentists and scientists from Newcastle University have found an unusual answer to fighting tooth decay with seaweed toothpaste. Interestingly, the team was originally studying the marine bacterium, Bacillus licheniformis, while looking for a solution to cleaning the hulls of ships.

The secret ingredient within the toothpaste is an enzyme harvested from the aforesaid marine bacterium which can be detected on the surface of seaweed. The bacteria contained in plaque are protected from antibiotics, brushing, chemicals and more by a slimy layer called biofilm. The last mentioned is formed due to bacteria being fused together by a network of extracellular DNA.

“Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonize an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors,” elaborated Dr. Nicolas Jakubovics from Newcastle University’s School of Dental Sciences. “Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria – but that’s not always effective – which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities. “Work in a test tube has shown that this enzyme can cut through the plaque or layer of bacteria and we want to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture cleaning solution.”

When it comes to the Bacillus licheniformis, the bacteria discharges a particular enzyme that actually has the power to dissolve the biofilm and free them from the web. What’s really worth noting is the fact that in addition to releasing the bacteria from the biofilm, the enzyme is capable of thwarting the formation of plaque too.

But seaweed toothpaste is not the only useful bit of information to come out of the research. The enzyme in question can also be employed to clean medical implants including speech valves and artificial hips.