OHSU School of Dentistry Team Examines How to Rapidly Assess Children’s Tooth Decay Risk at Chair-Side

06/22/10  Portland, Ore.

The study published in Pediatric Dentistry indicates that ATP-driven (adenosine triphosphate-driven) bioluminescence is a useful tool at the dentist’s office for predicting children at high risk for tooth decay

 Researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry have determined that ATP-driven (adenosine triphosphate-driven) bioluminescence — a way of measuring visible light generated from ATP contained in bacteria — is an innovative tool for rapidly assessing in children at the chair-side the number of oral bacteria and amount of plaque that can ultimately lead to tooth decay.

The study is published online in the May-June 2010 issue of Pediatric Dentistry.

Caries (microbial disease) prevention is one of the most important aspects of modern dental practice. Untreated, large numbers of cariogenic bacteria adhere to teeth and break down the protective enamel covering, resulting in lesions and cavities. There is a critical need in dentistry to develop better quantitative assessment methods for oral hygiene and to determine patient risk for dental caries, because disease as well as restorative treatment results in the irreversible loss of tooth structure. Previous caries risk assessments have focused on social, behavioral, microbiologic, environmental and clinical variables.

The goal of the OHSU study was to examine the use of microbiological testing, specifically ATP-driven bioluminescence, for quantifying oral bacteria, including plaque streptococci, and assessment of oral hygiene and caries risk. Thirty-three randomly selected OHSU pediatric patients, ages 7 to 12, were examined, and plaque specimens, in addition to saliva, were collected from one tooth in each of the four quadrants of the mouth. The oral specimens were then assessed to count total bacteria and streptococci and subjected to ATP-driven bioluminescence.

The OHSU team found statistical correlations, linking ATP to the numbers of total bacteria and oral streptococci. Their data indicated that ATP measurements have a strong statistical association with bacterial numbers in plaque and saliva specimens, including numbers for oral streptococci, and may be used as a potential assessment tool for oral hygiene and caries risk in children.

“The use of ATP-driven bioluminescence has broad implications in dentistry and medicine and can be used translationally in the clinic to determine the efficacy of interventional therapies, including the use of mouth rinses and perhaps in the detection of bacterial infections in periodontal and other infectious diseases,” noted Curt Machida, Ph.D., principal investigator and OHSU professor of integrative biosciences and pediatric dentistry.

The OHSU team included Machida; Shahram Fazilat, D.D.S., a 2008 pediatric dentistry graduate; Rebecca Sauerwein, research assistant in integrative biosciences; Jennifer McLeod, a fourth-year dental student who recently graduated; Tyler Finlayson, second-year dental student; Emilia Adam, D.D.S., M.P.H., a second-year pediatric dentistry resident who recently graduated; John Engle, D.D.S., interim chair of the Department of Pediatric Dentistry; Prashant Gagneja, D.D.S., associate professor of pediatric dentistry; Tom Maier, Ph.D., assistant professor of integrative biosciences and oral pathology and radiology.

The research was funded by Oral BioTech, the OHSU School of Dentistry, and the Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, which is funded by a grant from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Established in September 2006 through the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program, OCTRI is a unique partnership between OHSU and Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research – bringing together an academic medical center and an innovative managed care organization. OCTRI’s mission is to improve human health by enhancing clinical and translational research. OCTRI works with institutional partners, community organizations, and industry to engage communities in clinical research efforts and to reduce the time it takes for laboratory discoveries to become treatments for patients.

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government). OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

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