Tooth decay affects some 5 billion people around the world. A vaccine that prevents the infection that leads to decay is not far off, say scientists at the Forsyth Institute, a research group dedicated to oral health.
Their work - reported in the July issue of the journal Nature Reviews Immunology - is based on a technique that stimulates the production of antibodies, which, in turn, inhibit the enzyme that allows bacteria to accumulate on teeth says co-author Daniel Smith. "The one [enzyme] that we highlight is called streptococci mutans. It infects the dental plaque and secretes acid and that's what causes the lesion."
Smith says the vaccine under development would not be administered by injection, but in an aerosol, sprayed into the nose. "The immune apparatus then kicks in and makes antibody that will appear in the saliva and it is that salivary antibody that will deal with the bacteria."
Preliminary research from several small-scale clinical trials in young adults indicates that the vaccine is safe. The Forsyth Institute is searching for a partner to help fund large-scale trials. Smith says these studies would focus on youngsters, between one and two years of age. "That's the age at which children become infected with the organism that eventually causes tooth decay. So the idea is to block the entrance of that bacteria into the mouth so that it cannot take hold and become a permanent member of the dental plaque."
Smith says children would have to be revaccinated when they get their permanent teeth and he expects that such a vaccine could become a routine part of childhood immunization. He says a vaccine could also play a vital role in public health, especially in places where access to dental care is limited.