Can a Vaccine Prevent Dental Caries/Cavities?
Dental caries (cavities) are a product of oral bacteria producing acids as part of their metabolism and expelling them onto the surfaces of teeth. The acids demineralize the enamel surfaces of the teeth causing the enamel to break down which results in the softening of the tooth structure and development of a cavity. Since dental caries are caused by bacteria it should be recognized that dental cavities should be classified as a communicable disease. It is one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. As such, it should be possible to develop a vaccine to combat the primary causative bacteria; Streptococcus mutans.
What Types of Vaccines Have Been Tried?
There have been many varied approaches to developing an effective caries vaccine including whole cell vaccines, subunit vaccines, and synthetic peptides. Both approaches of active and passive immunization have been tried in animal studies, but a serious side effect has been encountered: human heart reactivity. This limits the safe use of caries vaccines in the human population. Following vaccination against Streptococcus mutans, antibodies are produced that exhibit evidence of reactivity with human heart and skeletal muscle tissues.
Various animal studies have shown that an effective caries vaccine would probably be of a subunit type, which would still have substantial efficacy, but have minimal side effects, since the most effective time to administer such a vaccine would be in young children prior to the eruption of permanent teeth at age six. As such, patient safety is of utmost importance. Research will continue to develop a safe anti-caries vaccine, but since dental caries is not a life threatening disease research interest and funding is usually not a priority on the national level.
For in-depth information reference our Dental Caries Vaccine Development CE course.