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Licorice Lollipops May Reduce Tooth Decay in Kids


Some lollipops may actually be good for your kids. A recent study conducted in Lansing, Michigan, among preschool children ages 2 to 5 years found that sugar-free licorice lollipops reduced the bacteria associated with tooth decay.

Licorice lollipops can be a healthy treat

Tooth decay is a major problem among children. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 42% of children ages 2 to 11 have had cavities in their primary teeth. Cavities are caused by a combination of food and bacteria, and the main bacteria responsible for tooth decay is Streptococcus mutans.

In the study, 66 preschool students enrolled in the Greater Lansing Area Head Start Program were given a lollipop that contained licorice root extract for 10 minutes twice daily for three weeks. The researchers used a saliva test to measure the level of S. mutans in each child’s mouth before and during the three-week study, as well as for several weeks after the children stopped getting the lollipops.

The investigators found a significant reduction in S. mutans during the study, and the reduction lasted for an additional 22 days before the organisms began to rebound. Martin Curzon, editor-in-chief of European Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, which published the study, noted that licorice lollipops are “an ideal approach as it will stop the transfer and implantation of the bacteria that cause dental decay from mothers to their infants and toddlers.”

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The licorice lollipops were made using ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Licorice root extract (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) is believed to kill S. mutans, which is just one of an estimated 700 types of bacteria found in the human mouth. Although most of the bacteria are harmless, S. mutans survives in plaque and releases acid that causes tooth decay.

In another study, which was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers evaluated sugar-free licorice root lollipops given twice a day for 10 days. They also found that the herbal lollipop markedly reduced S. mutans in the human volunteers tested.

The findings of the study involving the use of the licorice lollipops in the 66 preschool children are “important not only for dental caries prevention research,” noted Jacqueline Tallman, RDH, BS, MPA, and the study’s principal investigator, “but also demonstrates the feasibility of a classroom protocol using a unique delivery system suitable for young children.”

The authors believe their encouraging results warrant the next step: randomized clinical trials using sugar-free licorice root lollipops or licorice root extract in other forms that will help fight tooth decay in children.

Hu CH et al. International Journal of Oral Science 2011 Jan; 3(1): 13-20
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
Peters MC et al. European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry 2010 Dec; 11(6): 274-78

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons