Stephanie Momeni HooverStephanie Momeni presents at Discoveries in the Making at Hoover Public Library on May 2, 2016. (Photo by Heather Dark)Dental hygiene is not only important for your oral health, but your overall health as well. Cavities are a multifactorial infectious disease that occur at alarming rates of up to 80 percent in children under five. Causes of cavities include too much dietary sugar (especially items containing sucrose) and not properly flossing or brushing your teeth with fluoride containing toothpaste. Time is also an important factor. Despite the presence of bacteria, it a can take tooth decay more than 12 months to develop, with children under five being at higher risk compared to other populations.

Stephanie Momeni, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biology at UAB, seeks to understand whether we can identify those strains of bacteria associated with tooth decay and whether we can determine how and when they are acquired. Momeni presented this research at the May 2 Discoveries in the Making at the Hoover Public Library. Research addressing these questions will lead to better understanding of the spread of bacteria as well as providing information for potential tooth decay prevention methods. Her research is conducted in rural Alabama, where it is more difficult for people to drive their children to the dentist and there are environmental factors that may contribute to the spreading of oral disease (e.g., low-socio-economic status).

In a longitudinal study, she used a bacterial typing method, rep-PCR, to type a specific bacterium (Streptococcus mutans) associated with tooth decay in children and their residential household family members. In the laboratory of Dr. Noel Childers (Pediatric Dentistry), Momeni and colleagues investigated these strains in the development of cavities as well as transmission of the bacterium in this community.

Two types of transmission are the focus of literature – interfamilial (by a family member, most often mother-to-child) and child-to-child (by a classmate/peer). These types of transmission can occur with typical sharing behaviors where saliva is exchanged. Although such sharing behaviors are important to immune system development, these behaviors also allow for sharing of both good and bad bacteria. While the current literature mostly cites mother-to-child transmission as being the primary avenue, Momeni demonstrated a high degree of child-to-child transmission meaning that the mother is not always the primary source, as is often thought.

Stephanie Momeni HooverStephanie Momeni presents at Discoveries in the Making at Hoover Public Library on May 2, 2016. (Photo by Heather Dark)She further investigates the bacterium using serotyping, a typing method used to distinguish immune system response to specific strains. In this population, they analyzed S. mutans serotype k with PCR, and found that there was an over 50 percent occurrence of serotype k, which has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, hemorrhagic stroke, and inflammatory conditions. Another supporting find is that 57 percent of children had multiple serotypes, which has also been linked with cardiovascular conditions. Further studies are needed to determine if serotype k may be used as an important early detectable biomarker for cardiovascular disease.

Essentially, oral hygiene is not only important in oral health, but is also important in overall systemic health by way of preventing bacteria from entering into the blood and causing secondary infections. Given that African Americans are at high risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, the additive effects of environment and the spreading of oral bacteria are of concern. Preventative aims could begin with something as simple as practicing good oral hygiene.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research provided research funding for these project (DE016684 and T90DE022736). Momeni is a Dental Academic Research Training pre-doctoral fellow in UAB’s School of Dentistry.