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The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The teeth are among the most distinctive and productive features of the human species. It is the longest lasting surface of the body and can be used in research studies many years after death. Yet, in the living individual, the integrity of the teeth is constantly assaulted by a microbial challenge so great that dental caries, or decay, ranks as one of the most widespread medical afflictions. According to studies, dental caries rank third in medical costs, behind only heart disease and cancer (Loesche 1996). This review will attempt to describe what is responsible for dental caries, namely a bacterium called Streptococcus mutans. More specifically, it will concentrate on theories regarding the precise role of S. mutans and what causes it to flourish at times when bacteria associated with a healthy oral cavity cannot survive. It will further explain how after performing Pure Culture and Mixed Culture studies, the results clearly provided a theory referred to as the “ecological plaque hypothesis.” In this theory, it became clear that it was not the mere presence of S. mutans that caused dental caries, but rather it was specific environmental factors that allowed S. mutans to thrive while rendering the non-pathogenic bacterium insignificant. Based on these updated theories, scientists have been able to find preventative methods to inhibit S. mutans even in the environment that normally favors its growth.

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