UCL News


Research to sink your teeth into

26 October 2006

Research led by the UCL Eastman Dental Institute is exploring the prospect of food that protects against tooth decay and gum disease.

NUTRIDENT, a consortium of institutions and companies from across Europe, has been awarded €2.2 million from the European Union to develop functional foods designed to actively improve oral health. The group is coordinated and led by Professor Michael Wilson, and includes researchers from other units of the UCL Eastman Dental Institute including Dr David Spratt, Dr Jonathan Pratten and Professor Stephen Porter.

The objective of the research is to identify components of food and drinks that can prevent the initiation and/or development of major dental diseases such as dental caries and gingivitis. These are the most prevalent infectious diseases in humans and are due to the accumulation of dental plaque on the tooth surface and at the gingival margin - between the tooth and the gum.

People need to clean their teeth every day to prevent the build up of plaque, but many do not remove enough plaque to stop disease from occurring. The resultant need for professional treatment, either to remove or restore teeth, places a considerable burden on healthcare budgets. In 2000, the cost of oral healthcare in the 28 member and accession states of the European Union/European Economic Area was about $54 billion.

However, there is evidence that certain foods and beverages derived from plants can protect against caries and gingivitis. NUTRIDENT will build on these observations by identifying those food and drink constituents that could help maintain oral health. Such constituents could be incorporated into functional foods and/or oral healthcare products.

NUTRIDENT is a multidisciplinary project that encompasses food chemistry, microbiology, cell biology, immunology, molecular biology, clinical evaluation, formulation and product development. The collaboration represents the first large-scale, systematic research programme designed to identify components of the diet that could help to maintain oral health by preventing the two most prevalent oral diseases.

Professor Wilson said: "Because of the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant microbes, there is an urgent need to identify novel compounds for use in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. The award of this grant has enabled us to form a pan-European research team whose aims are to isolate novel anti-microbial, anti-adhesive and anti-inflammatory compounds from a variety of plants commonly used as foods or beverages. The isolated compounds will be used in a number of ways to prevent or control the two most prevalent infectious diseases of humans - caries and gingivitis. They may also prove useful in the prevention or treatment of other infectious diseases."