"To our great surprise one of the top hits we got out of the 2,000 medicinal herbs is licorice," said Dr. Shi.
As they reported in the Journal of Natural Products, Shi's team isolated the active compounds in licorice and showed they kill decay-causing bacteria in lab tests.
To get the licorice extracts into extended contact with teeth, they put them in a lollipop. They are selling them to dentists and pharmacies.
You cannot get the same effect from just eating licorice. Most licorice sold in the U.S. is artificially flavored and contains lots of sugar, which is bad for your teeth.
The new lollipops are sugar-free and contain a special blend of real licorice extracts. They're actually orange flavored. Researchers say kids like them and so do parents.
"There are some parents that come up to me say how grateful they are for finding this helpful technology for their kids," said Dr. Shi.
It is a sweet idea that seems to catching on at the lab as well.