Mouth Holds Evidence for Fighting Infection

Published Online: Thursday, April 1, 2004

Individuals have natural antibiotics?beta-defensins?in their mouth that may help develop new oral treatments and improve the infection-battling abilities of mouthwashes, denture coatings, and wound dressings. These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (February 16, 2004).

These beta-defensins are important components of the human innate immune system, which has some noteworthy capabilities. For example, it can differentiate between harmful and harmless bacteria. "Innate immunity describes the defenses that we are born with; they're coded in our genes. In contrast, we develop the antibodies of our acquired immune system over time as we're exposed to bacteria and viruses. It's when our innate defenses fail that the acquired immune system picks up the slack," said Beverly Dale, PhD, scientific director of the University of Washington's Comprehensive Center for Oral Health Research.

Dr. Dale believes that, even though individuals brush their teeth, the mouth is full of moist surfaces and contains millions of bacteria. Therefore, a better understanding of the innate immune system may lead researchers to find ways to improve it.

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