According to the scientists, Streptococcus mutans tends to colonize the surface of teeth and convert sugar into aggressive acids -- which break down the tooth enamel -- but the Lactobacillus anti-caries in the gum reduce concentrations of S. mutans by causing them to clump, which prevents them from sticking to teeth.
"The effectiveness has been demonstrated and the first oral hygiene products containing probiotic lactobacilli are scheduled to appear in 2007," said Dr. Andreas Reindl of BASF.
The chemical giant has also announced that it will begin developing toothpastes and mouthwashes that contain L. anti-caries.
Dentists say that tooth decay -- which affects about 5 billion people all over the world, according to the World Health Organization -- should be fought with regular brushing and a visit to the dentist every six months to a year. Dentists do not recommend relying solely on L. anti-caries products, and add that they should not replace regular brushing.
"These new products will not remove the need to brush your teeth as their action is targeted against just one bacterium," said Dr. Gordon Watkins of the British Dental Association's health and science committee. "It's not a substitute for brushing the teeth, because this removes the plaque that contains a whole range of bacteria that causes gum disease and bad breath.
"The best way to minimize tooth decay is to reduce consumption of sugars, strengthen the teeth through the use of fluoride, and brush teeth to remove dental plaque," he added.
While L. anti-caries products may not be as affective as regular brushing and dental visits, they also do not present any of the risks associated with exposure to fluoride, which studies suggest can include weakened bones and even brain damage.
"It will be interesting to see what this probiotic gum is sweetened with," added Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "Will they use sugar? Or will they opt for cancer-causing chemical sweeteners?"