Eastman Dental Center Awarded $1.6M to Find Ways to Prevent Cavities

October 28, 2008

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Eastman Dental Center’s Hyun (Michel) Koo, D.D.S, Ph.D., $1.6 million to continue his work on preventing dental caries, the single most prevalent and costly oral infectious disease in the U.S.

Dental caries (decay) results from the interaction of specific bacteria (such as Streptococcus mutans) with dietary sugars. Streptococcus mutans produces polymers, using sucrose to help them, and other pathogens, to cling to tooth surfaces, forming biofilms, known as dental plaque. Basically, once the bacteria are firmly attached on the tooth surface, it creates cavities by eating sugars and then excreting acids that cause dental decay.

To date, Koo’s work has focused on finding novel therapeutic substances from natural sources that could prevent bacteria from forming dental biofilm by disrupting the production of polymers, as well as acids. Koo’s research team at Eastman Dental Center, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center, has discovered that specific compounds in cranberry and red wine grapes may significantly reduce the ability of bacteria to form plaque and cause cavities.

Most recently, Koo and his team have identified a novel strategy to reduce the development and virulence of dental biofilms and caries by combining two naturally occurring anti-biofilm molecules with fluoride, which is already well known to prevent cavities.

The NIH grant will allow Koo to continue his work analyzing how such combination therapy will affect the ability of bacteria to produce polymers and acids with the goal of preventing dental biofilm before it occurs. Koo will take a multi-disciplinary approach to identify the most effective dosage and the mode of action of this therapeutic approach, which may also reduce the level of fluoride needed.

“By integrating biochemical and molecular techniques with an in vivo model of dental caries, we will better understand how these compounds affect plaque development and expand their potential usefulness to prevent plaque related diseases in humans,” Koo said.

Koo received his Ph.D. degree from the State University of Campinas, Brazil, in 1999; his M.S. in 1996 from the State University of Campinas, College of Food Engineering in Brazil; and his D.D.S. degree in 1993 from the State University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was a postdoctoral fellow in oral biology at the Center for Oral Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Koo joined the Eastman Department of Dentistry faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor.

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