How Dental Plaque Can Help Identify Health Risks
When it comes to our health, dental plaque isn’t something we often discuss candidly. In fact, until very recently, the significance of dental plaque has been largely overlooked. That, however, is set to change as a renewed interest these unfavorable oral inhabitants has revealed new potential for identifying various health risks before they become larger issues.

Very recently, researchers have found that, by isolating a specific gene in the oral microbiome, they are able to access previously unknown information about a person’s health. This information can prove vital when it comes to the early diagnosis of a number of health conditions, well beyond those of the mouth, such as gingivitis and periodontitis.

New Biomarkers for Clinical Tests

Traditionally, samples sent to medical and pathology laboratories have mainly consisted by blood or tissue. However, thanks to research conducted by the team at the Oral Microbiome and Metagenomics Research Lab (OMMR), located at the University of Toronto, that could be changing very soon.

The gene that researchers have identified is labeled 16S ribosomal RNA, or 16S rRNA. It is significant because it is akin to an individual’s fingerprint in that it is both present in, and unique to, all bacteria, including that of dental plaque. In essence, this means that 16S rRNA serves as a reference point in all plaque samples and assists researchers in the identification of various bacteria contained in a given sample.

Researchers will then be able to compare plaque samples taken from healthy individuals with those taken from people with specific diseases. This will allow them to map preliminary biomarkers that will provide critical information pertaining to potential health risks.

The reason for the effectiveness of plaque samples lies in the incredibly diverse nature of the microbial collection present in the human mouth. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research describes dental plaque as “a dynamic, polymicrobial community, that, like lichens growing along a craggy coast, colonizes various and sundry pits, fissures, and other oral surfaces.”

Planning for the Future

While this research has opened up new potential for medical diagnostics, there is still some doubt as to whether or not it will truly prove effective in the long term, mainly because it’s such a new area of study.

In order to expedite future studies, researchers at OMMR have developed a preliminary plan “to create an artificial mouth that mimics the physical and physiological conditions of the human oral cavity to help them carry out their biomarker identification process.”

Researchers also envision future studies to investigate the effectiveness of “plaque transplantation” therapies. This technique involves placing carefully selected plaque samples into the mouths of patients who have previously undergone radiation therapy. Radiation therapy can often cause rapid tooth decay, and the idea behind “plaque transplantation” is that, if completed properly, it can function to “stabilize the bacterial content of the mouth.”

Fortunately, the process of collecting dental plaque is non-invasive and samples can effectively be analyzed in a matter of hours. As scientists at OMMR continue to compile their unique “plaque bank,” biofilm samples could become powerful diagnostic tools that can be used to aid the entire healthcare industry.

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Posted by: DSR
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Tag: Dental
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