For a long time scientists have considered the Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria species, as the main cause of tooth decay. This bacteria produces acid and contributes to the formation of plaque, so it’s made sense that experts would have looked here primarily.

But a recent study by researchers at Penn Dental Medicine and UNC have showed that another type of bacteria, called S. sputigena, may play a larger role in tooth decay than previously thought. This bacteria has long been linked to gum disease, but its ability to work alongside S. mutans and enhance the damage it can do to teeth.

This is an interesting bit of news for pediatric dentists especially because dental caries (cavities) is the most common dental malady in children — both in the U.S. and everywhere else.

The way these two types of bacteria interact with each other is a significant finding, and may go on to explain the prevalence of cavities in kids. Certainly lifestyle has always been a factor, but in cases where a child is practicing all the right hygiene habits and still ends up with damaged tooth enamel, findings like this could shed some light on why.

And then more importantly, what dentists can recommend for stronger preventative measures.

A Great Example of Collaborative Effort For Meaningful Scientific Findings.

Kimon Divaris, PhD and DDS and professor at UNC, spoke as co-senior author of the study and remarked that this study was, “a perfect example of collaborative science that couldn’t have been done without the complementary expertise of many groups.”

Each of the organizations handled different aspects of the data per the expertise of each group, and that has allowed for more robust conclusions than either group may have reached working in isolation.

For example, in this case researchers were able to observe the way one type of bacteria creates an environment within the mouth, and then the other bacteria arrives and interacts with that environment. The two end up creating superstructures of bacteria, which is fascinating from a biological standpoint.