Understanding Human Oral Health

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What is the purpose of this research? For a complete overview of all three hyposalivation-related studies underway in the Relman Lab, please view the Projects Page. This page describes the rationale motivating the Understanding Human Oral Health Study.

1. Our first objective is to characterize the spatial variability of human dental plaque and of oral mucosal communities in healthy human adults.

census_pop-mapWe are interested in knowing how much variation exists in microbial communities when comparing bacterial populations on one tooth to those on another tooth in the human mouth. Just as social scientists are able to characterize the demographic factors that distinguish one county, city, or state of the U.S. from other geographic regions, as in the 2010 U.S. Census Interactive Map, so too are we as microbial ecologists able to evaluate similarities (and differences) among microbial communities residing in different regions of the mouth. Many factors, such as proximity to the nearest salivary gland or differences in tooth morphology, may influence site-to-site variation in oral microbial community composition. We seek to identify some of the demographic factors that shape spatial variation in microbial communities residing in the human oral cavity.           

 2. Our second objective is to characterize the variability of human dental plaque over time in the healthy human adult.

We also seek to describe the extent to which microbial communities sampled on one calendarday resemble communities sampled the next day as compared to a week to a month later in healthy adults. In other words, we are interested in understanding how resilient microbial communities are to the daily disturbances that occur in the mouth – from the periodic bursts of nutrients due to food and beverage intake to the oral hygiene habits of healthy adults.

Another question that we seek to address is whether the rates of microbial community change at certain sites in the mouth vary more or less than the rates of community change at other sites. Again, our question is similar to the familiar questions that we see answered by the U.S. Census, such as “do certain U.S. states attract more or less new residents in any given period, and why?” In this research study, we think about teeth in the same way that some social scientists think about states, as geographic regions that may host fluctuating or stable populations over time.

Why is this research important?

We are studying tooth-to-tooth differences in microbial community composition since we hypothesize that spatial variation in bacterial community composition underlies the relative susceptibility of different health-associated dental plaques to invasion by cavity-associated bacteria. If true, our work would have important implications for managing human oral health.

We also believe that it is only after we define the nature of spatial and temporal variation in the health-associated microbial communities may we begin to develop novel diagnostics or evidence-based quality assessments of novel dental therapies, two major priorities for improving oral health set by the Institute of Medicine in 2011.

What can I do to help?

stock-photo-66304589-group-of-people-pointing-at-the-cameraWe are recruiting 59 non-smoking, healthy adults over the age of 18. Our volunteers should not be under the treatment of a physician for any chronic medical condition, and should not be taking any medication besides birth control on a daily basis.

If you are interested in volunteering to participate in this research study, please take a close look at the risks and benefits of this research, as well as what we will ask you to do by clicking on Participate in the Human Oral Health Research Study.

If you are a clinician, and you would be willing to send letters to your patients on our behalf, please email Diana Proctor at hyposalivation@gmail.com,  and she will send template forms to you. You may also call Diana at (650)-485-3793.

You can follow @brushwithucsf on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook.

 You can also spread the word to others who may be interested in our research by tweeting or reblogging.

nidcr_logoThis not-for-profit research project is funded by a National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research grant (R01-DE23113-001) to Dr. David Relman.