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Stinky Pete, the Prospector

Bacteria Working in the Shadows: Streptococcus mutans.
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Walter Huston is best known for his character Howard the prospector in the 1948 film Treasure of the Sierra Madre (its line, "Badges? We ain't got no badges" has landed itself in the halls of pop iconography). Huston removed his expensive, false teeth to assume a role — spitting and sputtering through lines — to create the well nigh universal caricature of the Western prospector

Pioneers themselves, Streptococcus mutans, or Stinky Pete, also shares a relationship with teeth. Commonly found in the human mouth, Stinky Pete, a gram-positive, spherical-shaped bacterium is a major contributor to tooth decay.

Stinky Pete is one of few early arriving strains that metabolizes carbohydrates found in our food and produces lactic acid. The resulting acidic environment chips away at mineralized tooth enamel and makes teeth vulnerable to cavities and tooth decay. The metabolism of sucrose in particular produces a dextran-based polysaccharide that makes it easier for Streptococcus to bond with each other — creating a biofilm we know as plaque. After 10 days without proper care, plaque hardens into tartar.

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Research has found that strains of Streptococcus mutans are transmitted to toddlers from adult caregivers when they blow on food to cool during feeding. Recent dental research now looks at the effects of Xylitol, an organic sucrose substitute, in preventing this transmission and staving the effects of Stinky Pete.

While there certainly isn't gold in them thar hills, after prolonged exposure to Stinky Pete, there might be some silver.