Eastman Dental Institute


Our environment and the oral microbiome

Dr Andrew Smith and Professor Dave Spratt 

As we grow up, our oral bacterial community develops to become a complex and diverse with hundreds of species present. It is now clear that both oral disease and indeed other systemic diseases (such as heart disease and diabetes) are influenced by the composition of this oral microbiota and the ability to “re-programme” the oral microbiome could have substantial health benefits that reach beyond oral health.

There is also new compelling evidence demonstrating that where we live and our immediate family has a significant effect on our oral microbes and, surprisingly, our own genetic makeup plays almost no role. 

These new findings therefore provide the possibility of altering an individual’s oral microbes through manipulation of their environment. 

Since bacteria cause caries, successful interventions of this kind could reduce the occurrence of tooth decay especially in children whose oral microbiome is still developing. 

Indeed, we believe that there must be a period in human growth and development in which the oral microbe community can be altered permanently. 

Potential impact

Our group is currently at the forefront of this movement and we believe that our findings will have profound implications on the future development of preventative medicine. It is now possible to perceive a future where we can influence the development of disease through the manipulation of the microbial communities which colonise our tissue and organs.

If we are able to demonstrate that the oral microbiome can be manipulated in children* then we can envisage the development of an anti-caries microbiome. This would create an oral bacterial community that prevents the development of caries and all the associated pain, suffering and medical costs. This translational aspect of the study clearly has the most potential to change the lives of children and dental costs on a global scale.

*1/3 of children in England suffer from caries. It is the most common reason why 5-9 year olds are admitted to hospital and the NHS spends £30 million on hospital based tooth extractions for children under 18 years old.