Dental caries, one of the most common oral diseases worldwide, is predominantly caused by the Streptococcus mutans bacterium. According to a recently published study, salivary mucins, the main gel-forming components of mucus, could play an important role in inhibiting oral pathogens such as S. mutans and help prevent cavities.

S. mutans causes dental caries by adhering to the tooth surface, promoted by biofilm formation. Once the bacterium adheres to the surface, it produces organic acids that dissolve tooth enamel, leading to the formation of cavities.

Using colony-forming units of S. mutans and fluorescent microscopy, the researchers found that, although MUC5B salivary mucins in particular did not alter S. mutans growth within 24 hours, it decreased surface attachment and biofilm formation by maintaining S. mutans in the planktonic form.

The researchers thus suggested that MUC5B could play a crucial role in dental caries prevention and diagnosis.

The study, titled “Salivary Mucins Protect Surfaces from Colonization by Cariogenic Bacteria,” was published online on Oct. 24 in the Applied Environmental Microbiology journal ahead of print. It was conducted by researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.