Mind and Body

Thwarting the Growing Threat of Superbugs

Antibiotic resistant bacteria, commonly called superbugs, are on the rise. Last week researchers revealed that a new superbug could spread around world after reaching Britain from India, and there are virtually no antibiotics or drugs to treat it. The genetic mutation called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1, discovered in patients in South Asia and in Britain, makes bacteria highly resistant. What's worse it can turn virtually any bacteria into a superbug. The news struck fear, not just into the science community, but even the Financial Timesnewspaper featured an editorial last Thursday entitled "Fighting Superbugs, More effort needed to tackle growing antibiotic resistance."The editor states that "a first lesson is in the need for more responsible use of the limited range of antibiotics currently in use, to limit the spread of resistance that will render them useless."

The arms race between man and microbe goes back to the days of penicillin's introduction as "the magic bullet" and bears strong resemblance to the Cold War arms race between the U.S. And U.S.S.R.. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), another antibiotic resistant superbug, now routinely closes schools and gymnasiums. The overuse of antibiotics and biocides ("disinfectants" and "antimicrobials") on humans, pets, plants, and livestock has become a worldwide public health concern. Biocides such as triclosan and chlorhexidine are readily used in oral care products such as toothpastes and mouth rinses. With bacterial resistance to biocides having been reported since the 1950's, studies have already shown the development of bacterial mutants (i.e., strains of triclosan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in the mouth with reduced susceptibility to triclosan, the "active" ingredient in the leading brand of toothpaste.

Many researchers and microbiologists have been "sounding the alarm" about this growing problem, and in the past ten years, our understanding of the relationship of bacteria, in and on our bodies, has changed dramatically. In fact, bacteria are no longer looked at as "invaders," but play a vital role in our very existence and serve vital functions including protecting us, aiding in digestion, and the production of vitamins in our bodies. What's most fascinating is that bacteria live in thriving communities called biofilms. When disturbed and denatured such as by the use of biocides, these communities have an unhealthy and even virulent expression. However, when biofilms are "nurtured" and "balanced" they function very differently, with robust health. Gum disease, an epidemic source of debilitating chronic low grade inflammation in the body, is now recognized as a biofilm-mediateddisease.

Our approach must change. We need to get away from the "pesticide approach" with rampant use of biocides, and start promoting "organic gardening" with natural approaches to promoting a healthy oral biofilm. Most importantly, our adversarial view of bacteria must change. Knowing that we have a vital symbiotic relationship with bacteria. I am reminded of the words of Rodney King, following the devastating Los Angeles city riots almost 20 years ago. When the carnage ended with the riots financial toll of nearly $1 billion, he appeared on television and radio to simply say, "Please, can we all get along here. We can get along here."With the growing threat of superbugs, we should be saying the same.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to rejuvenationdentistry.com.