Researchers have developed a simple saliva-based test that reliably can predict not only if children will get cavities, but also how many and even which teeth are most vulnerable as they age.

"When we apply this to young children, it allows us to predict...the number of cavities they'll get by, say, their late 20s or 30s," says Paul Denny, lead researcher and professor of dentistry at the University of Southern California (USC).

The Caries Assessment and Risk Evaluation Test measures levels of compounds called sugar chains, or oligosaccharides, present in saliva.

The same sugar chains are present on tooth surfaces and have a similar effect as "good" and "bad" cholesterol in blood vessels. "Good sugar chains tend to repel cavity-causing bacteria, while "bad" chains allow the bacteria to bond to a tooth and start the decay process.

Researchers found the test can predict future cavities with greater than 98% confidence.

A different version of the test even identifies the particular teeth at risk.

"If we can identify those people that are at risk and put in preventive measures, it is going to prevent them from suffering." says Mahvash Navazesh, an associate professor at the USC School of Dentistry and co-inventor of the test.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Light Therapy May Help Gum Disease

A new study suggests that shining blue light N onto teeth may help combat bacteria that can lead to periodontitis, an oral infection that can lead to the loss of bone and teeth.

"Some of the key bacterial pathogens associated with periodontitis produce and accumulate compounds that are sensitive to light," says principal investigator Dr. Nikos Soukos, director of the Applied Molecular Photomedicine Laboratory at the Forsyth Institute in Boston.

"We found that, when exposed to particular wavelengths of light, a percentage of those pathogens was eradicated within seconds," he says.

His team is currently working on developing a hand-held, light-based device that might be used one day by consumers to help combat periodontal disease.

The study also found that while this light treatment killed off harmful pathogens that can destroy teeth, it also increased the proportion of potentially helpful bacteria.

Toothpaste: Why You Should Buy American

Toothpaste manufacturers may add extra fluoride to tubes sold in countries that don't have fluoridated water.

Too much fluoride in childhood can cause permanent brown spots on teeth. Buy only toothpaste that has the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

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