Saliva Test Predicts Future Cavities Risk
Test Can Pinpoint Where Kids Will Get Cavities, Say Researchers
Feb. 22, 2005 -- A new saliva test could help kids beat cavities before tooth trouble even starts.
The Caries Assessment and Risk Evaluation (CARE) test predicts which kids are most at risk for tooth decay and reveals which teeth are vulnerable to cavities, say the test's developers.
The CARE test was created by University of Southern California (USC) School of Dentistry professor Paul Denny and colleagues.
"When we apply this to young children, it allows us to predict what might be their future [cavity] history -- the number of cavities that they'll get by, say, their late 20s or early 30s," says Denny, in a news release.
Cavities are the result of tooth decay. The problem starts when foods containing sugars or starches are left on the teeth. Bacteria living in the mouth digest those foods, turning them into acids. Plaque -- a sticky film of bacteria -- helps keep these acids in contact with teeth. The acids dissolve tooth enamel, forming cavities.
Fillings close up cavities, but they don't last forever. Later, many patients need route canal or crowns, which are more costly and extensive fixes. In the worst-case scenario, cavities can lead to tooth loss.
How the Test Works
The CARE test searches saliva for sugar complexes. Those sugar complexes aren't all bad. Some help prevent cavities by repelling cavity-causing bacteria. Others make tooth decay more likely by letting bacteria latch on to teeth to do their destructive work.
A person's proportion of "good" or "bad" sugar complexes indicates his cavity risk and is determined by genetics, say the researchers.
The CARE test has a four-level ranking system to predict future cavities.
The test has been tried on 29 children aged 7-10 years. Results were presented in Washington, D.C. at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The researchers also want to try the test on infant saliva, gauging babies' cavity risk long before they cut their first teeth. They also plan long-term studies of the CARE test's accuracy.
If successful, the saliva cavity test could help tailor dental care to each child.
"It's possible that in the future -- even though a kid might be at very high risk for getting a large number of [cavities] -- with the proper preventive measures he [or she] can arrive at adulthood without any," says Denny, in a news release.