The affiliated companies of Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, and Indiana are funding two clinical studies to determine if sugarless lollipops containing licorice extract can reduce the bacteria that causes tooth decay in nursing home residents and Head Start children.

The investigations are a collaborative effort of the University of Michigan, the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Beaumont Hospital Division of Geriatric Medicine. Delta Dental’s Research and Data Institute is providing the grants as part of its mission to remain on the cutting edge of finding solutions to oral health problems.

"Despite great advances, dental decay is one of the most common childhood diseases, with more than half of children ages 5 to 9 having had at least one cavity or filling," said Jed J. Jacobson, DDS, MS, MPH, chief science officer at Delta Dental. "At the other end of the spectrum, the oral health of many US elderly nursing home residents can be very poor because disabilities make self care difficult and access to professional dental treatment may be limited."

The lollipops, manufactured by Dr. John’s Candies of Grand Rapids, Mich, were developed using FDA-approved materials by Wenyuan Shi, a microbiologist at UCLA, and C3 Jian Inc, a research and development company in California. The orange-flavored, sugarless lollipops contain extract of licorice root (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), which targets and is thought to kill the primary bacteria (Streptococcus mutans or S. mutans, and Lactobacillus casei) responsible for tooth decay.

"The study will examine the practicality of this delivery system in a classroom setting and hopefully establish a model that can be replicated," said Jacqueline Tallman, RDH, BS, MPA, principal investigator of the study. "Three to 5 years of age is an important time in children’s oral health development, and there is a strong need for new prevention measures."