Licorice root has a long history of medicinal uses. Even today, people use this root to manage acid reflux, canker sores, and even peptic ulcers. Like many natural remedies, licorice root may hold hidden potential to help with other medical problems as well. Research published in February 2012 suggests that licorice root might have some application for preventing tooth decay and gum disease.

Reducing Bacteria in the Mouth

A pile of licorice sticksResearchers reported the identification of two antibacterial substances in licorice root that kill the major bacterium responsible for tooth decay. These substances are licoricidin and licorisoflaven. The researchers discovered that both of these substances strongly inhibited Streptococcus mutant bacteria and Streptococcus sobrinus, both of which have a hand in tooth decay.

They also found that both substances inhibited major bacteria involved in gum disease such as Porphyromonas gingivalis, Prevotella intermedia, and Fusobacterium nucleatum. Their findings were based on tests where they applied licorice root extract to petri-dishes containing these bacteria. Future clinical tests are needed to prove that licorice root will have the same effect inside of the human mouth. A pilot study from 2010 already shows great promise for the future of this research.

The European Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (EAPD) conducted a pilot study in order to test the effectiveness of licorice root for removing cavity-causing bacteria in children. For their study, they gave sugar free licorice lollipops to a group of preschool children twice daily for three weeks. They saw a 27% decrease in Streptococcus mutans in at-risk children during the trial period. When the licorice lollipop trial ended, bacteria numbers in the children’s mouths went back up. These results are promising, and merit follow-up studies to test the uses of licorice root in dentistry.

Avoid Licorice Candy

Licorice candy will not have the same antibacterial effect as licorice root. Many companies no longer use real licorice in their candy. Instead, they use anise extract because it has a similar flavor, but is generally sweeter. The high sugar content of licorice candy also has the potential to negate any positive impact that you may have intended by eating the candy in the first place. The EAPD’s pilot study used sugar free licorice lollipops, and did not test whether or not the sugar content would have made a difference.

Use Licorice With Caution

Evidence suggesting that licorice root may have future dental applications for preventing tooth decay and gum disease. If you plan on testing this herbal medicine in your own mouth, use caution. Licorice root consumption may be dangerous for some individuals when used for longer than 4 weeks. As little as 5 grams of licorice root per day may cause other health concerns if you have high blood pressure, are pregnant, have kidney or heart disease, or are over the age of 40.

Regular Dental Cleanings Reduce the Risk

The dental potential of licorice root is still pending future study. In the mean time, it is still important to reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Your oral health has a direct impact on the rest of your health. Preventative care for your teeth may help protect you from conditions like heart disease later in life. Brushing and flossing twice a day can remove food particles that feed cavity-causing bacteria. Regular dental cleanings twice a year will further reduce your risk by removing any plaque buildup both above and below your gum line.

If you’re in the Orlando area and want more information about protecting your oral health or to schedule a cleaning, please call (407) 834-6446 to set up an appointment with Dr. Micheal L. Weinstock today.