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Saliva test could predict cavities

Researchers at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry have developed a new test that can predict the number of cavities a child will get from now up through his or her early thirties.

The Caries Assessment and Risk Evaluation, or CARE test, measures the relative proportions in saliva of different types of sugar chains-sugar chains also present on tooth surfaces.

Sugar chains' ability to resist dental disease is much like the process of "good" and "bad" cholesterol in blood vessels, researchers say. "Good" sugar chains can repel cavity-causing bacteria while "bad" ones allow bacteria to bond to a tooth and start decay.

Human sugar chain makeup, researchers stress, is genetically determined and can't be changed through diet, medication or other processes. The saliva test they've developed, they say, can analyze a child's sugar chain makeup and predict future cavity history within plus or minus one cavity with 98 percent confidence.

Children with extremely good or extremely bad oral health habits and nutrition might develop fewer or more cavities than the test predicts, but overall, they say genetics plays a much larger role in tooth decay than scientists theorized in the past.

They can also use the method to determine which teeth are in jeopardy, so use of sealants or other preventive strategies can help protect a child's oral and overall health. And, the test can detect active tooth decay as well.

Researchers say the main idea in using this test is to prevent cavities from developing, saving pain, suffering and cost. The USC team notes that treating cavities in children begins a cycle of replacing fillings after they deteriorate, often resulting in tooth loss, root canals and crowns well into the future.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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