Can rinsing with milk prevent Periodontal Disease?

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Regina Carson Contributing writer

Alex Anama Submitted photo

At the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology, students are charged each year with carrying out a science fair project. This year, RVGS/Salem High School senior Alex Anama elected to work in the Biomedical and Behavior Sciences field on a project titled, “The Effect of Vitamin D Milk as a Natural Mouth Rinse on S. epidermidis.”

As part of the Governor’s School’s Mentorship elective, Alex spent time this summer at Anama Family Dentistry shadowing his dad, Dr. Steven N. Anama. It was there that Alex noticed a correlation between patients with poor gum health and their lack of regularly using an over-the-counter mouth rinse. According to the ADA, therapeutic mouthwashes can help prevent or reduce gingivitis, plaque, tooth decay, cavities, and bad breath, and Alex was surprised that more patients weren’t using them. He decided to find out why, and their responses surprised him even more.

“As I listened to my dad talking with his patients,” said Alex, “I heard some of them say they were concerned about the high alcohol content in mouth rinses. I developed a simple research survey that addressed the alcohol issue, and I started using it with my dad’s patients. I then decided to include friends, neighbors, and others in the community to poll the broadest group that I could, and of the 75 people who completed the survey, 14.8 percentof them were concerned about the alcohol content of commercial mouth rinses.

“I wondered if whole milk, which contains both vitamin D and calcium, could work as a natural alternative to Listerine, and I hypothesized that it would present at least some, and maybe even an equivalent amount, of Listerine’s antibacterial properties.”

To test his hypothesis, Alex soaked blank discs in distilled water (the control group), original Listerine, which has an alcohol content of 26.9 percent, and vitamin D milk, which has an alcohol content of 0 percent. He then applied the discs to lawns of Staphylococcus epidermidis, a bacteria known to cause periodontal disease that he had left growing on nutrient agar plates. He incubated the plates for 24 hours at 98.6 degrees (normal oral temperature), and then took pictures of each plate and uploaded their yielded zones of inhibition to the computer program ImageJ for analysis.

“I found that in the control group, bacteria grew over the plates. In the milk group, bacterial growth was inhibited, but the Listerine group showed significantly more inhibition. Vitamin D milk can’t match Listerine as an effective antibacterial mouth rinse, but for people concerned about alcohol increasing their risk for oral cancer, it’s better than nothing!”

Since Alex’s results supported his hypothesis, “better than nothing” also means “success”.  Alex Anama is just one of the 264 gifted and talented young scientists who attend Roanoke Valley Governor’s School for Science and Technology. To learn more about the Governor’s School, a half-day regional public STEM school for motivated students in grades nine through twelve, please visit the school’s website at www.rvgs.k12.va.us or contact the school’s director, Mark Levy, or the school’s guidance counselor, Kathy Sebolt, at 540.853.2116.