Could the sweetness of licorice root help you and your kids fight cavities and gum disease? Yes, according to researchers, who recently isolated several compounds from the herbal extract that have potent antibacterial activity against germs that cause these dental problems.
Licorice is a sweet answer to gum disease
Gum diseases (periodontal diseases) are oral infections that include gingivitis (the milder form) which, left untreated, can develop into periodontitis, which can result in tooth loss. The danger doesn’t end at the mouth, however.
Research has uncovered a connection between heart disease and the main bacteria responsible for periodontal disease. Gum disease is also a complication of diabetes.
Therefore, the estimated 80% of adults in the United States who have gum disease may have more at risk than their teeth and gums. Most of these individuals are not aware they have gum disease, according to the American Dental Hygienists Association, because the condition is painless in its early stages.
Licorice root and gum disease
In a recent study appearing in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, researchers reported they had identified two components in licorice that significantly inhibit the growth of the main bacteria responsible for gum disease and cavities. Both licoricidin and licorisoflavan A were effective against Streptococcus mutans and S. sobrinus, which cause cavities; and Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella intermedia, which have key roles in gum disease.
According to the research team, both of these licorice root extract components could play a role in preventing and treating tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Dried licorice root is commonly used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat digestive and respiratory conditions. Modern research has found evidence that licorice root extract can be effective against development of cavities and gum infections.
Among the more interesting studies are those using licorice lollipops to fight tooth decay. In research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), for example, investigators found that sugar-free lollipops containing a licorice root extract killed S. mutans and other cavity-causing bacteria.
Do all of these findings mean you should start eating licorice candy? The authors pointed out that the licorice in candy in the United States has been replaced with anise oil. You should consult your dentist or other healthcare provider before taking true licorice root in any form.
Gafner S, Bergeron C, Villinski JR, Godejohann M, Kessler P, Hardellina JH, Ferreira D, Feghali K, Grenier D. Isoflavonoids and coumarins from Glycyrrhiza uralensis: antibacterial activity against oral pathogens and conversion of isoflavans into isoflavan-quinones during purification. J Nat Prod 2011; 74(12): 2514-19
Hu CH, He J, Eckert R, Wu XY, Li LN, Tian Y, Lux R, Shuffer JA, Gelman F, Mentes J, Spackman S, Bauer J, Anderson MH, Shi WY. Development and evaluation of a safe and effective sugar-free herbal lollipop that kills cavity-causing bacteria. Int J Oral Sci 2011 Jan; 3(1): 13-20
Picture credit: WIkimedia Commons