Burrell adds, however, if tests show the rinse does not upset this balance it could be a boon to dental hygiene. The rinse would only need to be applied once — preferably when a person is very young — and then the bacterium would settle into the patient's mouth for life. Adult patients could also use the rinse to prevent any further dental decay they may have already experienced.
Bacteria is often thought of as a target when it comes to cleaning, but recently, researchers have found strains that work well as cleaning tools. Companies like BioOne and Eco-Save provide cleaners that employ bacteria to eat through plumbing and bathroom scum. And environmentalists have found certain bacteria are effective in cleaning up toxic waste.
Now Hillman's bacterial strain, known as BCS3-L1, could take up a similar role in the mouth. Hillman presented his findings at this year's meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston.
Fewer Trips to the Dentist?
Just because a bacterium may be fighting tooth decay in your mouth doesn't mean you'll be free of the task of tooth brushing and flossing, Hillman says. Those daily practices are still needed for preventing gum disease and bad breath.
And while the thought of a decay-ending agent may cause unease among some dentists who make a living on the problem, Burrell points out the rinse could actually end up improving business.
"If this rinse really works, it could mean the average person will have their teeth for a longer time," he said. "Then they might have various gum infections that they wouldn't have experienced if they lost their teeth to tooth decay, and they'll need dentists for that."