Human Mouth Harbors Clues to Fighting Infection

Natural antibiotics may offer ideas on how to boost immune system

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TUESDAY, Feb. 17, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Natural antibiotics called beta-defensins in human mouths may offer clues on how to develop new treatments for oral infections and improve the infection-battling abilities of wound dressings, mouthwashes and denture coatings.

These beta-defensins are key components of the human innate immune system.

"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," Dr. Beverly Dale, scientific director of the University of Washington's Comprehensive Center for Oral Health Research, says in a prepared statement.

Dale presented her findings Feb. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle.

The innate immune system has some notable capabilities. For example, it can distinguish between harmful and harmless bacteria.

Dale says that because the mouth is such a complex and challenging environment, it's an ideal place to study the human innate immune system.

"Our mouth is full of moist surfaces, perfect for bacteria to adhere to; we feed these bacteria at regular intervals with nutritious foods and snacks," Dale says.

Even though we brush our teeth, our mouths still contain millions of bacteria.

"Yet most of us remain healthy -- without infections -- most of the time," Dale says.

Gaining a better understanding of the innate immune system may let scientists find ways to enhance it, she says.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about the immune system.

SOURCE: American Association for the Advancement of Science, news release, Feb. 16, 2004

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