Dental caries is a multifactorial disease that results from the interaction between the dental biofilm, oralenvironment and tooth structure of an individual. Although cross-sectional studies have suggested somespecies are associated more commonly with carious sites and others with caries-free surfaces,3, 4 the presenceor absence of a specific species has not been shown to be predictive of future caries development or cariesprogression. New technological advances have led to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of manydiseases, but despite our knowledge of the basic concepts of dental caries, the interaction of the dental biofilmmicrobiota, which may serve as an important caries risk indicator,1-4 is not well understood. We propose toanalyze dental biofilm metabolites in relation to the caries status of the surface associated with the biofilm. Ourgoal is to understand the metabolic activity of the dental biofilm to ultimately identify a signature forcaries activity. Our current grant (NIH 5R01DE017890-05), has detailed data on over 300 caries active children, wellcharacterized by the International Caries Detection and Assessment System (ICDAS) and by Quantitative LightInduced Fluorescence (QLF) longitudinally in terms of their caries activity and caries risk for the past fouryears. This allows us a unique window of opportunity to identify if there is a potential signature associated withdental caries by selecting children and specific tooth surfaces that are either caries-free (C-F), or caries-active(C-A) (have progressing lesions). The hypothesis for this study is that caries lesion activity is a reflection of theactivity of the overlaying dental biofilm; therefore, active lesions can be distinguished from arrested lesions andsound surfaces based upon their metabolic activity. Thus, we propose, to select and longitudinally examineand collect biofilm of 450 children (300 C-A and 150 C-F) between the ages of 5-19 to determine: (1) if thereare marked differences between dental biofilm metabolic activities using gas chromatography - massspectrometry (GC-MS) on a site-specific analysis that may categorize C-F surfaces compared to surfaces withC-A lesions in C-A children; (2) if there is a distinction between the metabolite signals in the biofilm overlayingsound surfaces from C-F children compared to C-A children; and (3) if there is a shift in the metabolite signalsof the dental biofilm overlaying surfaces that progress to cavitation. Pinpointing the metabolite signalsassociated with sound and C-A surfaces and with caries progression will allow the identification of biomarker(s)for caries activity that can be developed in a caries diagnostic test with unprecedented prediction power. This work is being done is close collaboration with experts in bioanalytical chemistry, specificallymetabolomics and organic volatile compounds. Our research team now includes Drs. Soini and Novotny fromthe IU Department of Chemistry, and Institute for Pheromone Research as well as current collaborators in theUniversity of Puerto Rico, where our study population is located.

Public Health Relevance

Dental caries is one of the most prevalent diseases of our time with significant health and monetary costs at the individual and population level. Identification of individuals and surfaces at risk relies primarily on the presence of cavities, a step later than desirable to initiate preventive actions. Our goal is to identify a biomarker by analyses of the chemicals (metabolites) present in the dental plaque, which could lead to a test to identify patients and specific tooth surfaces at risk to develop cavities allowing preventive interventions to occur very early in the process avoiding unnecessary fillings.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
High Priority, Short Term Project Award (R56)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-MOSS-B (03))
Program Officer
Denucci, D J
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
Schools of Dentistry
United States
Zip Code
Zandona, F; Soini, H A; Novotny, M V et al. (2015) A Potential Biofilm Metabolite Signature for Caries Activity - A Pilot Clinical Study. Metabolomics (Los Angel) 5: