Scientists have found that coconut oil treated with enzymes stopped the growth of Streptococcus bacteria, a major cause of tooth decay.
Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's conference, the Irish researchers say that coconut oil also attacks the yeast which causes thrush.
The research team, from the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, tested the impact of coconut oil, vegetable oil and olive oil in their natural states and when treated with enzymes, in a process similar to digestion.
The oils were then tested against Streptococcus bacteria which are common inhabitants of the mouth.
Only the enzyme-modified coconut oil showed an ability to inhibit the growth of most strains of the bacteria.
Lead researcher Dr Damien Brady, of the Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, said: ‘Dental caries is a commonly overlooked health problem affecting 60-90% of children and the majority of adults in industrialised countries.
‘Incorporating enzyme-modified coconut oil into dental hygiene products would be an attractive alternative to chemical additives, particularly as it works at relatively low concentrations.’
It is thought that the breaking down of the fatty coconut oil by the enzymes turns it into acids that are active and effective against bacteria.
Previous research found that enzyme-modified milk could stop Streptococcus mutans from binding to tooth enamel.
Researchers now want to look at how coconut oil interacts with Streptococcus bacteria at the molecular level and which other strains of harmful bacteria it can inhibit.
Dr Damien Brady who led the research at the Athlone Institute of Technology with Patricia Hughes, a Masters student, said coconut oil could be an attractive alternative to chemical additives.