Down the drain

June 1, 2007
When the kitchen sink becomes blocked and the sudsy water seeps and swirls ever so slowly down the pipe, it is safe to say the drain is clogged.

by Karen Kaiser, RDH

When the kitchen sink becomes blocked and the sudsy water seeps and swirls ever so slowly down the pipe, it is safe to say the drain is clogged. Buildup of leftover debris and grime packs the pipeline over time and doesn’t allow the dirty dishwater to run off. The blockage gradually accumulates inside the walls of the drainpipe and eventually slows down the normal flow of wastewater. When a larger glob wants to pass through, the clump completely stops the flow of water by blocking the outlet.

Removing this blockage may be as simple as pouring a concentrated liquid down the drain and letting the enzymatic solution dissolve the clog.

Our mouths are also filled with bacteria and byproducts that want to develop, harbor, and be left undisturbed. Pouring caustic oxidizing liquids into our mouths would certainly destroy the bacteria, but the warnings on the labels clearly advise against for good reasons.

Fortunately, for the oral environment, dental companies have developed safe mouthrinse formulas. These formulas disturb and disband biofilm in the mouth.

What are enzymes?

Enzymes control the metabolic process where nutrients are converted into energy in living things. Fundamentally, protein enzymes are important for breaking down materials into simpler materials by being the specific catalyst. In our mouths, while we chew on food, an enzyme, amylase, breaks down starchy foods into smaller maltose and dextrin (simpler sugars) during the digestive process. Enzymes are constantly working throughout our bodies to absorb materials along the digestive tract.

Enzymes break down or synthesize one particular compound and are limited in their action. Because enzymes are naturally not harsh and can still be effective, enzymes are incorporated in products that are used for cleansing the mouth.

Enzymes are added to home-care products to further hydrolyze plaque buildup. They may also have the advantage of getting to difficult crevices in the mouth which are easily missed with manual toothbrushing. When incorporated into oral products, enzymes can metabolize loose food debris that support the growth of bacteria.

For example, a protease enzyme lyses cells that reduce the bacterial population of plaque. This enzyme is a very stable enzyme and a catalyst when added to oral care products. When bacteria are prevented from easily attaching to tooth structures and tissues, the flow of saliva can more easily wash the tooth surfaces before bacteria can replicate and infect.

Saliva is beneficial. Laclede, makers of Biotene dry mouth rinses, recently introduced a new formula that contains the benefits of active enzymes. Biotene PBF mouthwash contains a formula that uses enzymes, without any alcohol, to dissolve biofilm. The enzymes dextranase and mutanese collectively work to inhibit the glucan bonds in plaque biofilm, which will in turn lessen plaque development. This formula also contains the three natural antibacterial enzymes - glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase, and lysozymes. These three enzymes break down sugars into small molecules. Glucose oxidase acts as a natural stabilizer and is also found in honey. Lactoperoxidase is an antibacterial enzyme naturally found in raw milk, which works in combination with other enzymes. Lysozymes destroy components of cell walls. These enzymes work as a team to replenish the antibacterial defenses found innately in rich saliva.

Adults are not the only patients to benefit from the use of active enzymes. Younger patients with newly erupting teeth may also safely use natural enzymes against harmful bacteria that attach and decompose on infant teeth. First Teeth® toothpaste (also by Laclede) is a gentle product used daily during toothbrushing to reduce plaque film. This toothpaste is made with natural fruit flavors and enzymes derived from milk and eggs - lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase and lysozymes.

Simple enzymes may be extracted from tropical fruits. Rembrandt® toothpastes incorporate the papaya fruit enzymes into the formulas. Papaya, which is a safe proteolytic enzyme, digests nonliving proteins. Papain, derived mainly from the papaya plant, works as a catalyst to speed up cell reaction.

Not only are enzymes found in rinses and toothpaste, they may even be found infused into floss. Eco-DenT’s GentleFloss has plaque-eliminating enzymes and 14 essential oils (a few examples are peppermint, orange, and lemon oils) incorporated into the string. Lactoferrin, glucose oxidase, and lactoperoxidase make up the natural enzymes filled into the floss.

Enzymes may also be found in any energized toothpaste that has aloe vera included in the formula, such as Dr. Wolfe’s toothpaste.

Natural products, such as those developed by Tom’s of Maine use many different fruity combinations as well as essential oils.

Because enzymes have shown such promise for working on plaque microbial colonies, product developers have considered oral enzymes as an active enzyme ingredient and incorporated them into home-care products. Other schools of thought on enzymes’ helpful abilities offer enzymes in less traditional forms. Not only are enzymes included in home-care product formulations but active enzymes can be taken topically or internally as well. Patients brush, floss, and use mouthwash as recommended and then integrate capsulated enzymes. These capsules are either dissolved in water or orally. The enzymes work to degrade leftover particles missed by routine home-care measures.

Enzymes are also effective on the surfaces of resin acrylic dentures. Polident Fresh Cleanse cleaner works with foamy pump action to quickly cleanse dentures effectively. Effervescent denture cleanser tablets also include enzyme action to break down plaque to smaller less adhesive units when activated in water for a denture bath.

Keep in mind that plaque is a biofilm - a very sticky one. Plaque consists of numerous bacterial colonies which combine and flourish in a complex biofilm coating. Once they colonize in the mouth and become biofilm bacterial matrix, they thrive and adapt to ensure their continued existence. Safe enzymes are found in home-care products like mouthrinses, floss, toothpastes, and denture solutions and tablet cleaners to dissolve this matrix.

Household drain cleaners contain the benefit of bacterial enzymes to dissolve debris. The liquid enzyme solutions metabolize materials within the drains by way of enzymatic and biological reactions. Using enzymes, which consume organic material, helps to maintain not only free flowing fluids in pipes but also improves the oral environment.

The author did not receive direct compensation for products mentioned. For more information about the products mentioned, visit,,,,,, and

Karen Kaiser, RDH, graduated from St. Louis’ Forest Park dental hygiene program in 1994 and currently practices at the Center for Contemporary Dentistry in Columbia, Ill. She has written several articles for RDH and other publications, sits on dental hygiene panels, and is an evaluator for Clinical Research Associates. She can be contacted at [email protected].