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The Bacteria Involved In Tooth Decay

More clues were revealed in a recent study about the microbes involved in the formation of tooth decay and cavities (dental caries). Scientists and dentists have long known about Streptococcus mutans involvement in cavity formation, but they found that another bacterial species can also be involved.

In the study researchers analyzed tooth plaque of 300 children (aged 3 to 5 years) and discovered that the bacteria Selenomonas sputigena (normally involved in gum disease) can partner with S. mutans to form cavities.

Perhaps in the future microbes or enzymes will be used to fight or suppress harmful bacteria involved in dental caries. We'll see.

From Science Daily: Dentists identify new bacterial species involved in tooth decay

Collaborating researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and the Adams School of Dentistry and Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina have discovered that a bacterial species called Selenomonas sputigena can have a major role in causing tooth decay.

Scientists have long considered another bacterial species, the plaque-forming, acid-making Streptococcus mutans, as the principal cause of tooth decay -- also known as dental caries. However, in the study, which appeared 22 May in Nature Communications, the Penn Dental Medicine and UNC researchers showed that S. sputigena, previously associated only with gum disease, can work as a key partner of S. mutans, greatly enhancing its cavity-making power.

Caries is considered the most common chronic disease in children and adults in the U.S. and worldwide. It arises when S. mutans and other acid-making bacteria are insufficiently removed by teeth-brushing and other oral care methods, and end up forming a protective biofilm, or "plaque," on teeth. Within plaque, these bacteria consume sugars from drinks or food, converting them to acids. If the plaque is left in place for too long, these acids start to erode the enamel of affected teeth, in time creating cavities.

Scientists in past studies of plaque bacterial contents have identified a variety of other species in addition to S. mutans. These include species of Selenomonas, an "anaerobic," non oxygen-requiring group of bacteria that are more commonly found beneath the gum in cases of gum disease. But the new study is the first to identify a cavity-causing role for a specific Selenomonas species.

The UNC researchers took samples of plaque from the teeth of 300 children aged 3-5 years, half of whom had caries, and, with key assistance from Koo's laboratory, analyzed the samples using an array of advanced tests. The tests included sequencing of bacterial gene activity in the samples, analyses of the biological pathways implied by this bacterial activity, and even direct microscopic imaging. The researchers then validated their findings on a further set of 116 plaque samples from 3 to 5-year-olds.

The data showed that although S. sputigena is only one of several caries-linked bacterial species in plaque besides S. mutans, and does not cause caries on its own, it has a striking ability to partner with S. mutans to boost the caries process.

S. mutans is known to use available sugar to build sticky constructions called glucans that are part of the protective plaque environment. The researchers observed that S. sputigena, which possesses small appendages allowing it to move across surfaces, can become trapped by these glucans. Once trapped, S. sputigena proliferates rapidly, using its own cells to make honeycomb-shaped "superstructures" that encapsulate and protect S. mutans. The result of this unexpected partnership, as the researchers showed using animal models, is a greatly increased and concentrated production of acid, which significantly worsens caries severity.

The findings, Koo said, show a more complex microbial interaction than was thought to occur, and provide a better understanding of how childhood cavities develop -- an understanding that could lead to better ways of preventing cavities.

"Disrupting these protective S. sputigena superstructures using specific enzymes or more precise and effective methods of tooth-brushing could be one approach," Koo said.

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