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Spit Test Predicts Tots' Tooth Troubles

New saliva-based screen assesses long-term cavity risk

THURSDAY, March 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The dentist's command to 'spit' might soon be part of dental diagnosis: Researchers say they've developed a simple saliva-based test that can predict whether children will get cavities, how many cavities they will get and even which teeth are most vulnerable as they age.

"When we apply this to young children, it allows us to predict what might be their future caries history -- the number of cavities they'll get by, say, their late twenties or thirties," lead researcher and University of Southern California (USC) professor of dentistry Paul Denny said in a prepared statement.

The newly developed Caries Assessment and Risk Evaluation test measures levels of compounds called sugar chains, or oligosaccharides, that are present in saliva.

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

Researchers found the sugar chain makeup in saliva can predict a child's future cavity history to plus or minus one cavity with greater than 98 percent confidence.

A different version of the test can further identify 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," said Mahvash Navazesh, an associate professor in the USC School of Dentistry and co-inventor of the test.

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

More information

The American Dental Association has more about tooth decay.

SOURCES: University of Southern California, news release, February, 2005
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