Scientists from Newcastle University used an enzyme isolated from marine bacterium Bacillus licheniformis, which they were originally researching for its use in cleaning ship hulls, the Daily Mail reported.
The scientists say the enzyme can "cut through" plaque on teeth and clean hard-to-reach areas.
Nicholas Jakubovics of the university's School of Dental Sciences said better products offering more effective dental treatment can be made using the enzyme.
"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," Jakubovics said.
"Plaque on your teeth is made up of bacteria which join together to colonise an area in a bid to push out any potential competitors. Traditional toothpastes work by scrubbing off the plaque containing the bacteria, but that's not always effective, which is why people who religiously clean their teeth can still develop cavities," he said.
When threatened, bacteria shield themselves in a slimy protective barrier known as a biofilm.
It is made up of bacteria held together by a web of extracellular DNA which binds the bacteria to each other and to a solid surface, around the teeth and gums.
The biofilm protects the bacteria from attack by brushing, chemicals or even antibiotics, the daily said.
The Bacillus licheniformis release an enzyme which breaks down the external DNA. That breaks up the biofilm and releases the bacteria from the web.