Starting off with good oral health as a child is a vital step to establishing good oral health for life. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for children to suffer tooth decay. Whether it’s a result of a sugar-heavy diet, poor education or guidance in at-home dental hygiene practices, limited access to dental care, or some combination thereof, it’s certainly not unheard of for children to get cavities.
But the numbers with which particularly young children — specifically preschool-aged and younger — are developing cavities is a cause for concern in the dental world. The American Dental Association has been clear that this type of decay, known as “early childhood caries,” is a very real public health problem. These caries put baby teeth at risk, and without baby teeth to help encourage development of the jaw and guide adult teeth into place, it can lead to more orthodontic problems later on. But now a study has identified part of the cause of this oral health challenge.
Bacteria Aren’t the Only Problems
Most tooth decay is directly caused by bacteria, such as the common bacteria Streptococcus mutans. However, recent research indicates that not just bacteria, but also a fungus may be contributing to the high prevalence of early childhood caries.
Researchers at the Department of Orthodontics and Divisions of Pediatric Dentistry and Community Oral Health were intrigued by findings from an earlier study performed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. In that earlier study, a team found that a specific type of yeast called Candida albicans could use enzymes that Streptococcus mutans produces to form a biofilm. A biofilm is a thin film of bacteria capable of adhering to a surface.
Inspired by these findings, the researchers developed their own study to identify which of the molecules on the fungus are enabling the creation of this biofilm. Then, researchers blocked that interaction, successfully preventing the formation of the biofilm.
This could mean big things for the treatment and prevention of early childhood caries. While previous cavity prevention efforts were focused on the bacteria itself, the ability to disrupt the interaction between the fungus and the bacteria could enable more effective prevention of decay.
It could also be important for prevention of gum disease in patients with dentures. Denture patients regularly experience Candida infections, and the sympathetic relationship between bacteria and fungus could lead to more pain.
Preventing Decay Starts At Home
Although this study could have big impacts on the future of cavity prevention, the first line of defense against decay is in your hands. No matter your age, the best way to prevent cavities is consistent, thorough oral hygiene.
This means brushing your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Move the brush in small circles along the gumline to ensure that you are cleaning teeth meticulously. And while brushing harder may feel more effective, it can actually be less helpful at removing plaque and can even damage your enamel and gums, so make sure your brushing is gentle.
Of course, don’t forget the floss: You can’t reach all the surfaces of your teeth with your toothbrush, so floss can fill in the gaps. You should be flossing daily. If that’s a habit you find difficult to keep, you can speak with your dentist about options like interdental brushes or water picking.
And while prevention of cavities starts at home, it certainly doesn’t end there. You can only do so much by yourself. It’s important to visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings to ensure that your oral health is on the right track.
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