Viacheslav “Slava” Fofanov, PhD
School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems
Tracking Oral Health In Children
Why do Arizona children have twice the rate of dental caries—also known as tooth decay—as children outside the state?
Socioeconomic status and limited access to dental care explain only part of the difference, said NAU researcher Viacheslav “Slava” Fofanov. “We suspect there is a biological explanation,” he said.
Human mouths are full of bacteria, he said, and about one-third of all people carry a strain that can lead to increased tooth decay. These cavity-causing bacteria aren’t present at birth, but they are passed on through saliva (typically, from the mother or primary caregiver) by sharing food, utensils, or other items.
Many children also attend preschool or day care centers, which can introduce even more germs to the mix. Fofanov and his research team want to see which strains of bacteria—the ones children pick up from home, or the ones they get from other preschoolers—become more dominant and destructive.
So they’ll study children in four counties in southern Arizona, which has a large population of Hispanic children from low-income families—a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to tooth decay. The team will examine each child’s oral microbiome—essentially, all of the bacteria in the mouth—before school starts and at several other times throughout the year.
That will tell Fofanov which strains are more dominant, and where dental providers should focus their efforts to treat tooth decay. “Do you have to do more education in the classroom? Or do you focus on the family?” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
Source: Pine Magazine, Spring 2018
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute On Minority Health And Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54MD012388. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.