The oral microbiome can predict childhood caries

Early childhood caries is an oral disease common in young children.  The infection leads to sustained demineralization of tooth enamel and dentin and can also spread to gums and surrounding areas.  Unfortunately, the damage from this disease is irreversible and can put a child at risk for tooth loss for the rest of his or her life.  In an effort to explore different ways to prevent childhood caries, researchers from China sought to investigate whether or not changes in the oral microbiomes of children could serve as a predictive measurement for development of caries.  

In a longitudinal cross sectional study conducted over 2 years, the researchers examined spatial and temporal variations in the microbiomes of 50 4-year old preschoolers.  The researchers took microbiota samples from saliva and plaque at four different time points.  Based on clinical monitoring among this cohort, the children were further segmented into 3 groups based on diagnosis: 1) healthy, which constituted 17 children, 2) caries onset, which constituted 21 children, or 3) caries progression, which represented 12 in the group. 

It was found that the caries onset group experienced delayed microbiota development, adjusted for age (which has shown to be a significant confounder as microbiota composition changes significantly during development).  Furthermore, changes in microbiota composition were more associated with ECC in onset children as opposed to progression, thus lending to the possibility of using the microbiome composition as a predictive tool.  In this light, the researchers developed a model termed Microbial Indicators of Caries (MiC) and successfully diagnosed ECC saliva/plaque samples from healthy samples with 70% accuracy, while predicting ECC onset in children with 80% accuracy.  The MiC model derived a readout based on an identified “intermediate” state of microbiota that represents a compositional shift. 

We’ve discussed in the past how microbiome composition and metabolites could be indicators of disease.  These findings point to another potential tool that can use features of the microbiome as a diagnostic method.  More research and further understanding of our microbiome can introduce a new field with the potential to provide immense health benefits.  

Please email for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.