Award-winning study into childhood caries

UCC research aims to identify bacteria responsible for decayed teeth

The first molecular study of the oral microbiota of Irish babies and children is the focus of an award-winning research project at University College Cork (UCC).

Paediatric dentist Eimear Hurley is working with the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre and the Microbiology Department at UCC as well as with Cork Maternity Hospital for her PhD thesis entitled ‘ORALMET: the Oral Microbiota of Irish children in Health and Disease’.

Recent molecular techniques have identified that caries can be caused by multiple bacteria and not just oral streptococci, as was previously thought. Eimear’s research is looking at the total pattern of bacteria in the mouth and how that affects the development of caries.

Eimear, who was part of a team that picked up a poster presentation prize at the Irish Paediatric Association Meeting in October, said: “We are studying children [in crèches and primary school] by taking a saliva sample and determining what bacteria are present associated with bad or good teeth. We expect to find differences, and this may help us form a ‘library’ of information, which we can store, and use to prevent children getting these bad, decayed teeth. We will also investigate the oral microbiota of new-born babies from birth to age three.

“We will test, as the baby develops, starts eating solid foods and cutting teeth, how the bacteria in the mouth also change. We will cross-reference this information to the data from the older kids, to try to build an overlapping picture, from infancy into pre-school kids where the risk of caries is greatest. This will help us identify which bacteria develop to put the child at risk of bad teeth, or promote good teeth.”