NIDCR-supported scientists are designing specialized instruments that will be able to detect early mineral loss in tooth enamel before a cavity develops. Other studies are focused on comparing DNA from people with tooth decay to those without it to look for genetic differences associated with the disease. Scientists also are identifying genes within bacteria thought to play a role in decay, and are looking at how these bacteria communicate with one another in the plaque or biofilm, the complex community in which they live. Such studies could one day lead to new ways to prevent decay or to detect it early and reverse it, before it becomes a cavity.
The NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) is the federal government’s lead agency for scientific research on oral, dental, and craniofacial health and disease. Scientists supported by NIDCR conduct research on the full spectrum of topics related to oral health, including oral cancer, chronic pain conditions, salivary gland function and dysfunction, craniofacial development and disorders, biomaterials, and tissue engineering, as well as periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay.
Through its Centers for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health, NIDCR continues to identify effective and culturally appropriate methods to reduce oral diseases in disadvantaged and underserved communities. Studies are testing a variety of strategies, such as providing oral health preventive services and education through Head Start programs and community health settings, and interventions with pregnant mothers to reduce early childhood tooth decay.