Novel oral microscope gives mechanistic insights into colloidal drivers of friction in oral biofilms

Tim J. Wooster*, Céline Loussert-Fonta, Anthony Ash, Romain Stoudmann, Roland Hass, Ivanna Colijn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Texture and mouthfeel are central to the sensory enjoyment of food and beverages. Yet our incomplete understanding of how food boluses are transformed in the mouth limits our texture prediction ability. As well as thin film tribology, the interaction of food colloids with the oral tissue and salivary biofilms plays a key role in texture perception via mechanoreceptors in the papillae. In this study we describe the development of an oral microscope capable of quantitative characterization of the inactions of food colloids with papillae and their concurrent saliva biofilm. We also highlight how the oral microscope revealed key microstructural drivers of several topical phenomena (oral residue formation, coalescence in-mouth, grittiness of protein aggregates and finally microstructural origin of polyphenol astringency) in the domain of texture creation. The coupling of a fluorescent food grade dye with image analysis enabled specific and quantitative determination of the microstructural changes in mouth. Emulsions either underwent no aggregation, small aggregation, or extensive aggregation depending on whether their surface charge facilitated complexation with the saliva biofilm. Quite surprisingly cationic gelatin emulsions that were already aggregated with saliva in mouth underwent coalescence if subsequently exposed to tea polyphenols (EGCG). Large protein aggregates were found to aggregate with the saliva coated papillae, increasing their size tenfold and possibly explaining why there are perceived as gritty. An exciting observation was the oral microstructural changes that occurred upon exposure to tea polyphenols (EGCG). Filiform papillae shrunk, and the saliva biofilm was seen to precipitate/collapse, exposing a very rough tissue surface. These tentative early steps are the first in vivo microstructural insights into the different food oral transformations that are drivers of key texture sensation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)426-437
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2023


  • Astringency
  • Emulsion coalescence
  • Mucoadhesion
  • Oral microscope
  • Polyphenol
  • Saliva biofilm
  • Saliva precipitation


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