A team of dentists and scientists from Newcastle University are developing a new product from seaweed to protect dentures, teeth and gums from bacteria in the mouth.

The team are using an enzyme isolated from the marine bacterium Bacillus licheniformis found on the surface of seaweed which they were originally researching for the purpose of cleaning the hulls of ships.

Speaking at the Society for Applied Microbiology summer conference in July, the researchers explained how they are beginning to realise the bacterium's potential in a host of medical environments – including teeth cleaning.

Dr Nicholas Jakubovics of Newcastle's School of Dental Sciences believes that products for the mouth offering longer and more effective protection than toothpaste can be made from the enzyme.

'Work in a test tube has shown that this enzyme can cut through the plaque or layer of bacteria and we want to harness this power into a paste, mouthwash or denture cleaning solution,' said Dr Jakubovics.

The enzyme from the marine bacterium breaks up and removes the bacteria present in plaque and can also prevent the build up of plaque.

'This is just one of the uses we are developing for the enzyme as it has huge potential such as in helping keep clean medical implants such as artificial hips and speech valves which also suffer from biofilm infection,' said Professor Grant Burgess, who is leading the research team.

The team's next step is to further test and develop the product and they are looking to set up collaboration with industry.