Dental News: The Connection Between Childhood Tooth Decay And Yeast

Your toddler should have regular dental visits, and here’s why. More than one-third of all toddlers in the U.S. are affected by a serious form of tooth decay characterized by yeast and bacteria combining to form a biofilm that coats the teeth. The candida yeast can’t form the biofilm unless sugar is present, so young children who eat sugary foods and drink sugary beverages are at higher risk of developing cavities.

What Is Happening

Most tooth decay is strictly caused by bacteria like Streptococcus mutans. However, S. mutans creates an enzyme that yeasts like Candida albicans use for fuel, resulting in production of the biofilm. The discovered enzyme, called GftB, uses sugar to make a glue-like substance called glucans. The yeast only accelerates the process, and that results in a sticky biofilm.

What Can Be Done

Researchers have targeted the yeast molecules that interact with the bacterial enzyme, and hope to develop ways to block the chemical interaction to prevent the biofilm from forming. If the binding between the yeast and the GftB enzyme can be altered or interrupted, they are unable to form the biofilms or form less biofilm material. Researchers also found that the weakened biofilm that is produced under these conditions has a much harder time sticking to the tooth’s surface. In fact, a drink of water removed 70 percent of the biofilm, and when the water was swished around in the mouth, nearly all the biofilms were removed.

These research findings may lead to an entirely new direction for treating early childhood cavities. Current treatments include fluoride treatments as a preventative. Dentists use broad spectrum antimicrobial agents to target the bacteria. When tooth decay has become severe, surgical intervention (tooth removal) is usually the only recourse.

Researchers are excited about their findings because about 23 percent of American children are affected with early caries. They’re now working on developing therapies based on their promising research.

These early cavities are sometimes called nursing bottle cavities and are caused by S. mutans. After six months, teeth begin to erupt through the gums, and they are very susceptible to decay. One factor is that the normal “good” bacteria that help fight oral infections are not fully developed until possibly 30 months of age. The S. mutans have a free pathway to take over, and the bacteria are also easily passed from mother to child through breastfeeding. Children with extensive early childhood caries experience severe pain and usually have multiple tooth extractions and even dental restorations in some cases.

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