Yeast-bacteria interaction implicated in tooth decay

Though most tooth decay can be blamed on bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans, a new study published in June in the journal PLOS Pathogens, has found the fungus Candida albicans may be a joint culprit in an alarmingly common form of severe tooth decay affecting toddlers known as early childhood caries.

In earlier research, a team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine found that C. albicans, a type of yeast, took advantage of an enzyme produced by S. mutans to form a particularly intractable biofilm.

In their latest research, the team pinpointed the surface molecules on the fungus that interact with the bacterially-derived protein. Blocking that interaction impaired the ability of yeast to form a biofilm with S. mutans on the tooth surface, pointing to a novel therapeutic strategy.

“Instead of just targeting bacteria to treat early childhood caries, we may also want to target the fungi,” senior author on the study Hyun (Michel) Koo said.

The current standard of care, beyond the use of fluoride as a preventive approach, is to target only the bacteria with antimicrobials, or to use surgical interventions if the tooth decay has become too severe.

“Our data provide hints that you might not need to use a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and might be able to target the enzyme or cell wall of the fungi to disrupt the plaque biofilm formation.”

Koo and colleagues are now working on novel therapeutic approaches for targeted interventions, which can be potentially developed for clinical use.

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