September 27, 2022

Dental Care

Filling a Void

Professor's discovery offers a lifetime of cavity protection.

Art Levy | 7/1/2007


Dr. Jeffrey Hillman’s mutant strain of Streptococcus mutans doesn’t produce destructive lactose acid.

Working in his research lab in 1976, Dr. Jeffrey Hillman accidentally discovered a mutant strain of Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Unlike typical Streptococcus mutans, this strain was lactose-deficient, meaning that after it gorged on sugar, it didn’t produce copious amounts of lactose acid, the stuff that digs holes in tooth enamel.

Hillman, a dentist and professor of oral biology at the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry, immediately recognized the potential of this newfound strain: No more cavities. No more drills.

After years of clinical trials, first on rats and now on people, Hillman’s treatment is moving closer to market. Called Replacement Therapy, it essentially replaces the Streptococcus mutans already in the mouth with a modified, lactose-deficient strain. “It may take six months to a year, but eventually our strain will kick out the disease-causing strain,” he says. “A one-time treatment can give lifetime protection.”


A rat with acid-producing Streptococcus mutans fed a high sugar diet for two months suffered severe tooth decay (above). A rat given the Replacement Therapy strain and fed the same diet fared much better

Hillman is convinced his treatment is safe and harmless to everything but decay. All that remains is convincing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

As he awaits the FDA’s decision, Hillman continues to work on other treatments. He says his Probiora3, a mixture of three naturally occurring bacteria, can also prevent cavities, but only if used daily. His company, Oragenics Inc., located in UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Development Incubator in Alachua, is looking for a partner to produce it either in mouthwash or chewing gum. The formula has already passed all of its clinical trials, and Hillman hopes it will be available this year.

Dr. Scott Wagner, a Jacksonville dentist, thinks Hillman’s work “could potentially redefine the profession.”

Tags: North Central, Healthcare

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