oa Southern African Journal of Epidemiology and Infection - Pathogenesis of dental caries in South African children : a molecular approach : research article

Volume 20, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 1015-8782
  • E-ISSN: 2220-1084



Bacterial communities are characteristic for distinctive ecological niches. Yet, some indigenous bacteria have the potential to express virulence characteristics when a change in the environment disturbs natural stability, producing a condition of disease. An example of such a system is the human mouth where dental caries can result from the complex interaction of diet, the normal bacterial flora and the host. The mutans streptococci species are most implicated in the cause of this disease. They constitute part of the natural oral flora but express virulence when exposed to increased dietary carbohydrate, especially sucrose. Yet, dental caries is also a transmissible disease, with mutans streptococci acquired and spread through contact from various sources. Modern molecular biology methods have been used to trace the spread of infection and now provide the strongest evidence of the source of transmission of infection in dental caries. These methods also provide insight into change in virulence gene expression and that different levels of virulence are associated with genetic differences between mutans streptococci strains. Surveillance of this complex pathogen in South Africa is reviewed herein.

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