Researchers explore new ways to prevent child tooth decay

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Around 2,700 Victorian children aged 0-6 years are hospitalised each year for dental conditions—most of them requiring treatment of dental decay under general anaesthetic.

Yet most oral disease in young children is preventable according to Professor Eric Reynolds, CEO of the Oral Health CRC who presented at the Early Childhood Oral Health Research Symposium held in Melbourne last Wednesday. The symposium was an initiative of the University of Melbourne and the Oral Health CRC in Melbourne.

Professor Reynolds was one of 10 presenters drawn from the fields of population health, clinical practice, molecular science, oral health epidemiology and genetics to present and discuss the latest research in early childhood oral health, and innovations in prevention and treatment.

“We need to continue investigating new ways of reducing oral disease for this group, using the latest scientific evidence to inform prevention and education programs, clinical practices and the development of new treatments,” said Professor Reynolds whose presentation topic was the development and testing of new products for the prevention and early treatment of decay in children.

His team is currently investigating the use of compounds that act as prebiotics in the mouth, encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria that keep disease-causing bacteria in balance.

University of Melbourne microbiologist Professor Stuart Dashper was another presenter. He is part of a team working on a long-term research project, VicGen, that has tracked the bacterial composition of children’s saliva from the age of one month to five years. The study found that infants who do not develop a healthy mix of oral bacteria—known as the microbiome—are more susceptible to decay in three or four years’ time.

“We found a correlation between the number of bacterial species in an infant’s saliva and advanced dental decay by the time that child is five,” said Professor Dashper.

“We are continuing research to get a better understanding of how communities of oral bacteria develop in young children and hope to soon be able to use these biomarkers to help identify children at risk of dental disease.”

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