The oral microbiome of children, and its relation to dental caries

The oral microbiome is a popular area of exploration because bacteria are a prominent part of dental health, and because it is one of the most heavily colonized and easily accessible niches in the body. Many studies have been discussed on this blog concerning adult oral microbiomes, and its relations to bodily issues such as cystic fibrosis and periodontitis. It is also very useful to investigate children and the ways that their bacterial communities first inhabit and develop. A study done in Sweden at the Umeå University, and published by Plos One, takes a look at the maturation of the oral microbiome from infants at 3 months old to children at 3 years old.

The Swedish researchers performed a longitudinal study that followed children from 3 months to 3 years of age, looking for microbial characteristics of children with dental caries (i.e. cavities) compared to those without. There were 207 original participating 3 month olds that were consented by their parents to be in the study. The parents provided information on mode of feeding, mode of delivery, use of antibiotics or probiotics, health issues like allergies, and presence of teeth. At 3 months and later at 3 years samples were taken from the buccal mucosa, tongue, and alveolar ridges. Teeth were also scraped for plaque and saliva was collected. Of the original 207 participants, 155 returned for sampling at 3 years of age, and 13 of those children had dental caries.

After sequencing the bacterial DNA samples, it was found that Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and various Pseudomonas species were significantly more prevalent in 3 month olds. However, there were 23 genera that were more significantly prevalent at 3 years of age than at 3 months.

By comparing the children with and without caries, the scientists were able to make several conclusions.  The researchers identified seven taxa that appear to be associated with healthy teeth.  On the other hand, Streptococcus mutans seemed to be more prevalent in the children with caries, than in those without caries. Additionally, the colonization of this species was most prevalent in girls. This is possibly because girls develop faster, so earlier tooth eruption allows for a longer time for the colonization of these bacteria.

The results of this study show us that during the first three years of life, species richness and diversity seems to increase significantly in the mouth. While there is an increase in the type of the bacteria, there are also some taxa that are lost with age. The researchers also concluded that the oral microbial composition of the mouth at 3 months does not appear related to the development of dental caries. With this information, it might be smart to perform a related study that collects oral microbiome samples in children within the time frame of 3 months to 3 years, because it could show a clearer picture of the changes that take place in bacterial composition.

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