Research on using oral bacteria transplant to prevent tooth decay 

Research on using oral bacteria transplant to prevent tooth decay 
Caption: Image credit: iStock/Bojan89

Researchers at the University of Adelaide are investigating the viability of a unique transplant procedure involving the transfer of beneficial bacteria from one person's mouth to another, potentially through a specialized toothpaste, offering a potential solution for improving dental health.

An oral microbiome transplant entails extracting plaque bacteria from a "super donor"—an individual with a naturally healthy oral microbiome—and introducing it into the mouth of a patient with an unhealthy microbiome.

Associate Professor Peter Zilm from the Adelaide Dental School explains, "There are over 700 bacteria that live in the mouth which make up the microbiome. Why some people naturally have a healthy microbiome regardless of whether they go to the dentist regularly or not is a mystery."

The envisioned oral microbiome transplant, facilitated via a specially formulated toothpaste or gel, aims to enhance dental health by augmenting the population of beneficial bacteria in individuals lacking a healthy microbiome. This intervention could protect against dental decay and associated health complications.

In collaboration with Penn State University, researchers have developed a screening tool to identify potential super donors and a 3D flow cell to simulate the mouth environment, enabling the preservation of microbiomes from super donors. "Our preclinical work shows that we can keep at least 250 bacteria that are essential for preventing tooth decay alive for three months in a biobank," adds Associate Professor Zilm.

Preliminary findings from pre-clinical trials indicate promising results, with the transplant demonstrating the ability to suppress cavities without adverse effects on overall health. Associate Professor Zilm envisions the creation of a biobank containing beneficial bacteria from super donors, which could lead to the development of a toothpaste containing these bacteria, potentially benefiting vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young individuals.

Oral health conditions rank as the third highest cause of preventable hospital admissions in Australia, with over 63,000 hospitalizations annually. Approximately 25 percent of Australian adults live with untreated tooth decay, with disproportionately higher rates among specific demographics such as Indigenous populations, regional residents, and those with lower incomes.

Zilm underscores the significance of oral health beyond mere eating and drinking, noting its implications for overall health and its association with various medical conditions. Securing funding for further research into oral microbiome transplants is a priority, intending to advance to human trials within the next two years.

"If we can demonstrate the safety of oral microbiome transplants for humans, they could offer a cost-effective solution to one of the nation's most prevalent chronic illnesses," he concludes.