According to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, compounds isolated from licorice root used for confectionery products contains at least two compoutnds that appear to be potent inhibitors of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria associated with the dental caries.
The study is due to appear in its entirity in the February edition of Journal of Natural, published monthly by the American Chemical Society and the American Society of Pharmacognosy.
Its findings could prove to be a major boost to makers of oral care products - including moutwashes, toothpaste and even chewing gum - looking to up the efficacy of their products through the use of natural, well-known ingredients.
The scientists involved in the project say that more research is needed before it can categorically be proven that the compounds effectively fight human cavities.
However, Qing-Yi Lu, a chemist at UCLA's School of Medicine, and Wenyuan Shi, Ph.D, a microbiologist at UCLA's School of Dentistry state that if further studies show promise, the licorice compounds could eventually be used as cavity-fighting components in mouthwash or toothpaste.
According to the soon-to-be published article, licorice has been an important herb in Chinese medicine for many years and is now being 'rediscovered' by Western medicine as a rich source of potentially beneficial compounds.
In addition to being used as flavoring and sweetening agents in candy, tobaccos and beverages, compounds derived from licorice root have been shown to help fight inflammation, viruses, ulcers and even cancer, according to the researchers.
Currently licorice extract can be found in a number of Ayurvedic oral care remedies, having been long-discovered by Indian Ayurvedic practitioners to have positive effects on oral health.
A leading manufacturer of licorice toothpaste is Indian personal care player Auromere, which distributes its product lines both in India and in the US.