It’s sometimes said that the mouth is one of the dirtiest (i.e. most bacteria-laden) parts of the body. So why do wounds in the mouth tend to heal so quickly — and how do they stay free of infection?
It’s a question that has intrigued Dr. Aaron Weinberg, a professor of dental research at Case Western Reserve University, for many years. In trying to unravel the mystery, Dr. Weinberg discovered that certain bacteria commonly found in the mouth stimulate the production of substances called human beta defensins, or hBDs. Produced by cells lining the mouth, hBDs act like natural antibiotics: they keep disease-causing bacteria, fungi and viruses in check, and help maintain healthy tissues.
Dr. Weinberg was able to isolate an agent from bacteria that triggered the production of health-promoting hBDs. In future trials, the researcher hopes to develop ways to fight disease by using this agent to stimulate the natural defenses of the body’s mucous membranes in the mouth and elsewhere. For example, a local injection of the agent might protect against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases; coating a bandage with it could promote wound healing; and putting it in toothpaste could inhibit periodontal (gum) disease! If successful, these natural antibiotics could add another weapon to our disease-fighting arsenal.