Someday, your dentist may advise three things for good oral health: brushing, flossing, and licorice root.
Researchers have found that compounds found in the dried root of the licorice plant may help prevent and treat tooth decay and gum disease.
But don’t rush off to the candy aisle to get it. Modern licorice candy in the U.S. is flavored with anise oil, not actual licorice root.
The authors of the new study, published in the Journal of Natural Products, noted that Chinese licorice root, found in northern mainland China, has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for years “as a guide drug to enhance the activity of other ingredients, reduce toxicity, and improve flavor.”
Scientists found that when licoricidin and licorisoflavan A, two predominant compounds in licorice, were combined with other compounds, they prevented the growth of bacteria associated with periodontitis, an inflammatory disease that can destroy the bones, gums, and tissue that maintain our teeth.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, an estimated 92 percent of American adults and seniors have had some form of tooth decay, and it evens affects young children in great numbers.
But while the new studies with licorice root extract are promising, there are some risks.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) says the jury is still out on whether taking licorice root supplements for more than four to six weeks is safe. In addition, forms of the supplement, which contain glycyrrhizin, can raise blood pressure, lower potassium levels, and cause salt and water retention when taken in large amounts.