Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is a berry bush which grows in peat bogs of northeastern United States. Cranberry extracts are rich in polyphenols, such as flavonoids, with many health benefits. In the 17th century, cranberries were used to treat scurvy*. Now it is mainly used to treat urinary tract infections in women. In addition, it treats Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections to prevent gastric ulcers, and shows promise in preventing some cancers.
Cranberries may be good treatment for oral diseases, including gingivitis and periodontal diseases. Gingivitis is infection of the fleshy tissue around teeth, and periodontitis is infection of the supporting structures around the teeth. The extract used from cranberry is called NDM (non-dialyzable material) or high molecular weight fraction. It contains mostly proanthocyanidins. (This is the fraction that prevents adhesion of Escherichia coli bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract.) The infectious diseases of the oral cavity stem from the ability of bacteria to form biofilms in the mouth. (Biofilms are bacteria containing films which increase the survival of pathogenic bacteria.)
Six weeks use of a mouthwash supplemented with cranberry extract resulted in significant reduction of S. mutans. Another study revealed NDM extracts of cranberry reduced the ability of S. sobrinus to adhere to a hard synthetic surface.
Periodontal disease bacteria becomes embedded and form biofilms behind the gingiva. Cranberry NDM polyphenols inhibited the growth of 2 periodontal bacteria: Parphyromonas gingivalis and Fusobacterium nucleatum. After the bacteria are destroyed, cranberry polyphenols continue to inactivate inflammatory chemicals which remain and could cause further damage.
**Biofilms protect Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sobrinus, bacteria which cause caries. The acidity produced by these bacteria by the fermentation of sugars may result in the loss of tooth enamel. Previous studies have demonstrated the ability of concentrated cranberry extract to inhibit biofilm formation by 80-95%.
CONCLUSION: Proanthocyanidins from cranberry polyphenols may prevent or treat dental caries and periodontal disease. However, “…It is unlikely that the consumption of cranberry juice on its own can benefit oral health.”
NOTES: *Scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency. Now, it is occasionally seen among alcoholics on a poor diet.
**Biofilms in the mouth are composed of bacteria, epithelial cells, proteins, enzymes, food debris, and polysaccharides.
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