Visits to Burlingame Dental Arts, your pediatric dentist in SW Portland, for teeth cleaning and other preventative care probably feels like we’re fighting bacteria. Seriously, don’t those little creeps just give you cavities?
Well, this study takes a closer look at bacteria as our human microbiome (and with 10 bacterial cells to every human cell in our body, they do have us outnumbered!) The results may impact on how scientists and healthcare providers approach sickness from a microbiome perspective.
As dentists and healthcare providers, our understanding of bacteria is changing almost daily. Projects like the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Human Microbiome Project are working to increase our understanding of our micro-communities, and how they affect our health and wellbeing.
Now a new study released in the journal mBio this month is building on the NIH’s discoveries.
According to researchers, the study reveals that oral bacteria behave differently when you are sick. This is important to learn because you have the same (hundreds) of species in your mouth whether you are sick or not– but in times of disease, the bacteria change their habits.
Using supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), researchers analyzed the genes of over 60 species of bacteria (for those who love numbers and the central dogma of biology: this means over 160,000 genes, yielding 28 to 85 million reads of RNA snippets, and including about 17 million mRNA reads for each sample). Letting TACC do the grunt work, scientists hoped to learn more about what these single-celled organisms did in times of health or hardship.
Bacteria can literally change their metabolism when living in a sick mouth. That means that bacteria who normally choose to eat fructose (a type of sugar) might switch to another type: sucrose, for example.
This can explain one of the impacts of disease, like periodontitis. According to this study, our bodies have the same bacteria in our mouths whether we’re healthy or not. But, when we’re not healthy, the metabolism of those bacteria can change– this indicates that it may not matter exactly what bacteria are making up our microbiome, but what they’re eating.
Knowledge of the microscopic activities our bacteria engage in can also help predict or control disease. Based on these results, researchers are suggesting a future where we might “feed” bacteria differently in times of disease to steer their behavior in a more beneficial direction
Burlingame’s approach to bacteria…
… isn’t changing much yet. Our goals are always to keep our patients’ smiles healthy, and happy. But maybe someday utilizing knowledge about our microbiomes will help us do that. Until then, Drs. De Graff, Kierkegaarde, and Wilson are going to stick with what they know!
We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment at Burlingame Dental Arts.