United by passion for pickles, Israeli-Chinese team claims dental discovery
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United by passion for pickles, Israeli-Chinese team claims dental discovery

A heimishe classic, pickles may also fight plaque and reduce cavities, a power researchers say can be harnessed for a new generation of mouthwashes

Fermented dill pickles from 'The Joys of Jewish Preserving,' by Emily Paster. (Courtesy)
Fermented dill pickles from 'The Joys of Jewish Preserving,' by Emily Paster. (Courtesy)

Pickles, a heimishe classic, may also be a dentist’s dream, with new research suggesting that they can protect teeth from cavities.

When scientists from two pickle-passionate nations, Israel and China, put their heads together to advance dental care, their thoughts turned to pickles. A team from Ben Gurion University of the Negev and China’s Sichuan University has now concluded that probiotics produced in the pickling process can slow the buildup of plaque.

After the researchers infected two groups of rats with a dose of cavity-causing bacteria designed to significantly speed tooth decay and monitored them for 35 days, the group that received probiotics from pickles had 20 percent to 30% fewer cavities.

The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, isn’t just good news for pickle-lovers, but could have far-reaching implications for oral health. It opens up the possibility of using probiotics to maintain dental health, Ben Gurion University environmental biologist Ariel Kushmaro told The Times of Israel.

Traditional pickles from Sichuan (courtesy of Sichuan University)

He said that it could even change oral hygiene products like mouthwash, which generally rely on anti-bacterial chemicals and fluoride. “This could lead to probiotic mouth treatments, there are lots of possible applications,” said Kushmaro. “The main idea is that probiotics can reduce pathogenic bacteria in the mouth — that could mean you have fewer problems with oral hygiene.”

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are thought to have health benefits. Yogurts contain them, as do many fermented foods, pickles, and lots of beauty products and food supplements. Kushmaro said that the researchers decided to explore their relevance to oral hygiene because of their known benefits in other areas.

A woman brushing her teeth with a toothbrush (photo credit: Sophie Gordon/Flash 90)
Illustrative: A woman brushing her teeth. (Sophie Gordon/Flash 90)

The pickle-probing team, led by Qun Sun of Sichuan University, tested 54 strains of bacteria isolated from pickled cabbage that is popular in Sichuan — and has long been said to have health benefits.

All of the bacteria were Lactobacillus from the lactic acid bacteria group. Some showed benefits but one in particular, Lactobacillus plantarum K41, was particularly effective in reducing the build-up of plaque and preventing cavities.

While the research focused on Sichuan pickled cabbage, Kushmaro said the production process is similar to that used for lots of other pickles, including many heimishe cucumbers, and suspects that they also contain bacteria that could help oral hygiene.

“We isolated different bacteria from the pickles and then used them to create probiotics,” Kushmaro said. “We proved that they inhibit the bacteria that are responsible for the formation of biofilm, which initiates plaque, and we demonstrated that we can inhibit the level of cavities.”

The research team wrote in its article: “Our results offer a potential alternative strategy for the control of oral biofilm, dental plaque and dental caries.”

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