One villain responsible for tooth decay is the bacterium streptococcus mutans, which breaks down sugar and produces the sticky molecules (glucans) that are responsible for allowing bacteria to cling to our teeth. This villainous bacterium also produces enamel-eroding acid responsible for cavities. The heroes that counter these effects are called “polyphenols,” which are found in the fermented stems, seeds, and grape skins left over from wine production. These compounds, which are also found in cranberries, block streptococcus mutans’ ability to produce glucans. As helpful as polyphenols are, however, no one is suggesting that we drink wine or sugary cranberry drinks to prevent tooth decay. Instead, scientists hope to isolate these compounds and put them in toothpaste and mouthwashes.
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