Is it possible that a vaccine could make cavities a thing of the past? Right now, the answer is no! However, there could be hope in the future. I’m Dr. James Stewart, a Livonia dentist, and I would like to see an end to cavities and tooth decay.
Studies are being conducted at the Forsyth Institute in Boston on a vaccine to end tooth decay in children. Martin Taubman and Daniel Smith, Forsyth researchers, state that their vaccine could prevent decay-causing bacteria from accumulating on the teeth.
Tooth decay is symptom of the chronic infectious disease call dental caries. Bacteria (mutans streptococci) gather in significant numbers in the presence of sugar. As bacteria break down the sugar, lactic acid is produced. The lactic acid eats away tooth enamel and eventually produces cavities.
Studies have shown that rotting teeth are nearly epidemic world-wide due to the increased intake of sugary foods. In China, nearly 75% of children by the age of five have tooth decay. Tooth decay is a leading childhood disease in the United States.
It is the goal of the Forsyth team to end cavity-causing mutans germs by making it virtually impossible to stick to the teeth. The vaccine works by introducing antigens into the body. Antigens force the body to produce antibodies, which attack the antigens and stay in the system indefinitely, providing long-term immunity.
The new vaccine will use an antigen called glucosyltransferase (GTF). This antigen will stimulate immunity to the enzyme that allows decay-causing bacteria to accumulate on teeth, thus the decay-producing microorganisms will not cling to teeth.
Most vaccines work through your bloodstream. This vaccine will trigger saliva and mucous tissue and, therefore, will be squirted or swabbed in the nostrils. Researchers believe the vaccine should be introduced to children on or near their first birthday. Baby teeth emerge at this point, but bacteria have not yet begun to amass in large numbers. Bacteria begin to build up at around 18 to 36 months of age, when natural antibodies are no longer able to fight the bacteria effectively.
Taubman and Smith have tested the vaccine successfully on rats and the next step is human clinical trials.
For now, proper oral hygiene is the only way to prevent cavities. In the future, a vaccine in conjunction with brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and a dental check up every six months, may eliminate cavities and tooth decay altogether. If you have a toothache or tooth that shows signs of a cavity, call my Livonia dental office at (734)425-4400 to schedule an appointment.