When I see a child with a cavity, I
right away tell the parent that the child has "strep tooth". I say
this partly for effect, as many patients don’t appreciate the seriousness of a
cavity. It sounds alarmist to include the word "strep" in conjunction
with "cavity", but it makes sense since, for a tooth, a cavity is a
potential death sentence. The streptoccoccus bug will infect the tooth and
eventually kill it, requiring a root canal.
So while dental experts previously thought that the bug
Streptococcus mutans (strep) was the primary cause of cavities in children, a
new study has revealed that bacteria named Scardovia wiggsiae was also present
in the mouths of all participants who suffered from cavities, even when the
Steptococcus mutans was not.
Cavities during early childhood are the most common
chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S. Cavities are a disease
that is one of the leading reasons for child hospital visits.
And cavities are more prevalent among disadvantaged
socio-economic groups that lack access to regular dental care. Cavities are also
found in children that consume high amounts of sugar and do not floss and brush
their teeth. Serious levels of tooth decay in early
childhood may alter eating and sleeping patterns, thereby causing a decrease in
age-adjusted weight in older children.
So why then, given all of this, there is no pill or vaccine
for dental cavities? Our children are vaccinated against so many diseases, but
why not the most prevalent disease children suffer from?
In fact, the perfect group to vaccinate would be young children.
When we are born, our mouths are sterile but quickly become colonized with over
500 “good” bacteria. The ratio of good to bad bacteria is analagous to the
normal flora in the gut.
So, if a vaccine could be given early on before the bad
bacteria take hold, like the Streptococcus mutans andScardovia wiggsiae, these bad bugs
might never find a home on our childrens’ teeth.
So where's the vaccine? I'm a dentist that would rather
vaccinate against this infection than anesthetize and drill on my young
patients. The Surgeon General states in 2000 that 80 percent of cavity-related
problems are concentrated in just 20-25 percent of children, primarily
belonging to African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and low-income
families. The vaccine would serve even in areas of the world where dental care
does not even exist. I smile just thinking of the possibilities.