Sugar and tooth decay – is it ‘too much’ or ‘too often’?

Project description

Project Summary

Understanding the relationship between sugar and health is a major Government priority. The link between sugar and caries is known, but it is not clear what is most important: the frequency of sugar intake or the total amount of sugar eaten. Existing advice favours the over-riding importance of frequency of sugar intake. This has been challenged recently by surveys of diet and decayed teeth in >1,500 participants, which suggest a stronger link exists between caries and the total amount of dietary sugar. This must be addressed if the best guidance is to be given to parents, carers and children. We aim to determine which is most important (frequency or total sugar) in enhancing the growth of acid-producing plaque bacteria, and what factors may mitigate the effects. This will lead into more focused, better designed clinical studies that will help shape dietary advice to minimise caries risk in children.

Aims and Objectives

We will use laboratory experiments and computational modelling to reveal the combinations of total sugar intake and frequency of intake that have the best and worst effects in promoting the growth of acid-producing or beneficial bacteria over many weeks. This will allow us to design the most effective clinical studies to confirm what really matters in terms of dietary sugars and childhood caries, speeding up the process from theory to practice.

Thus, we will:
• Grow communities of plaque bacteria and systemically vary the frequency and total amount of sugar supplied to them with and without fluoride. We will monitor the effects of these combinations on the bacterial community as well as the amount of acid generated and compare both against conditions known to initiate tooth decay. We will also determine if beneficial bacteria (probiotics) or other agents that affect the microbial ecology can influence the outcome.
• The limited parameter sampling and durations achievable in the experiments will be mitigated by the use of a computational plaque model being developed in collaboration with Dr Head (Computing), preliminary results for which suggest a comparable role for both frequency and total sugar intake. Once calibrated to the experiments, this in silico model will provide a unified, long-time picture of the dietary risk factors for childhood caries.

We will identify high risk factors that should be avoided, and provide bounds on the frequency and/or amount of sugar that we expect to reduce the risk of caries. This will be used to inform the design of pilot studies in children attending the Leeds Dental Institute, in collaboration with experts in Paediatric Dentistry and Dental Public Health. This will also be an important experimental project in an ongoing cross-Faculty collaboration that promises to deliver a powerful future technology for oral healthcare research.

Entry requirements

Please contact our staff for further details about entry requirements.

How to apply (email)

How to apply (phone)

+44 (0)113 343 7497