Tooth decay is one of the most common of all disorders, second only to the common cold. It usually occurs in children and young adults but can affect any person. It is a common cause of tooth loss in younger people.
Bacteria are normally present in the mouth. The bacteria convert all foods -- especially sugar and starch -- into acids. Bacteria, acid, food debris, and saliva combine in the mouth to form a sticky substance called plaque that adheres to the teeth. It is most prominent on the back molars, just above the gum line on all teeth, and at the edges of fillings. Plaque that is not removed from the teeth mineralizes into tartar. Plaque and tartar irritate the gums, resulting in gingivitis and ultimately periodontitis.
Plaque begins to build up on teeth within 20 minutes after eating (the time when most bacterial activity occurs). If this plaque is not removed thoroughly and routinely, tooth decay will not only begin, but flourish.
Most cavities are discovered in the early stages during routine checkups. The surface of the tooth may be soft when probed with a sharp instrument. Pain may not be present until the advanced stages of tooth decay. Dental x-rays may show some cavities before they are visible to the eye.
Boston--Researchers at The Forsyth Institute have made significant advances in research to develop a vaccine against cavities. The research team of Martin Taubman, DDS, PhD and Daniel J. Smith PhD, has discovered key molecules that can stimulate a human immune response and has successfully conducted immunization trials in animal models. The global epidemic of dental caries (cavities) highlights the growing imperative to develop a vaccine to prevent cavities.
Dental caries is an infectious disease that occurs when microorganisms accumulate on the teeth, especially in the presence of sucrose (sugar), says Taubman, head of the Department of Immunology at Forsyth. "Oral health is a critical component of general health and well-being," said Dr. Taubman. "Unfortunately, dental caries remains a chronic problem that is not only widespread in the industrialized world, but is also increasing in prevalence in developing nations. We have a real opportunity to address this public health crisis, and to improve quality of life, while preventing long-term health problems."
Forsyth's strategy is aimed at stimulating the production of antibodies that inhibit the enzyme that allows bacteria to accumulate on teeth. The researchers believe that the best way to protect against caries over the long term is to vaccinate children at about the age of one, after teeth have begun to emerge, but before mutans streptococci bacteria have begun to colonize the tooth surfaces. At this stage, Taubman explains, children's immune systems are developed enough to produce antibodies to prevent accumulation of mutans bacteria and the tooth-decaying acid the bacteria manufacture. Once the bacteria already accumulated, antibodies form, but are not effective in halting decay.