New Bacterial Species Discovered to Cause Tooth Decay

New Bacterial Species Discovered to Cause Tooth Decay

Tooth decay, a common and costly disease, has long been associated with the bacterium Streptococcus mutans. However, groundbreaking research published in Nature Communications has unveiled a new culprit in the formation of cavities: a bacterial species called Selenomonas sputigena. This discovery challenges our understanding of the tooth decay process and provides crucial insights into the intricate interactions between bacterial species that contribute to cavity formation. This article delves into the study’s findings, shedding light on the role of S. sputigena and its unexpected partnership with S. mutans in intensifying the severity of tooth decay.

The Study’s Scope for Tooth Decay

Conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and the Adams School of Dentistry and Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, the study involved 300 children aged 3-5 years, half of whom had caries. Researchers collected plaque samples from the children’s teeth and subjected them to an array of advanced tests. It’s including sequencing bacterial gene activity. Researchers also analyzing biological pathways indicated by bacterial activity, and conducting direct microscopic imaging.

Tooth Decay and S. sputigena: A Collaborator in Cavity Formation

While Streptococcus mutans has long been known as the primary agent of tooth decay, the study revealed that S. sputigena plays a pivotal role in enhancing the cavity-making power of S. mutans. While S. sputigena does not cause caries independently, it thrives when trapped within the sticky glucan structures of protective plaque environments. Here, it rapidly multiplies and forms honeycomb-shaped “superstructures” that encapsulate and shield S. mutans. This unexpected partnership leads to a significantly intensified and concentrated production of acid, exacerbating the severity of cavities.

Understanding the Complexity of Tooth Decay

The revelation of S. sputigena’s influence in the cavity-forming process has expanded our understanding of tooth decay beyond what was previously known. The interactions between multiple bacterial species, including S. mutans and S. sputigena, play a pivotal role in shaping the development of childhood cavities. This enhanced comprehension offers promising prospects for devising more effective strategies to prevent and combat cavities.

Implications for Preventive Measures

Armed with the knowledge of S. sputigena’s involvement in cavity formation, researchers are exploring novel avenues for cavity prevention. The discovery opens up possibilities for disrupting the protective S. sputigena superstructures, possibly through targeted enzymes. Additionally, there is potential for refining tooth-brushing methods to more effectively combat the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the oral environment.

Future Endeavors

The researchers are now focusing on in-depth studies to understand how this anaerobic motile bacterium, S. sputigena, thrives in the aerobic environment of the tooth surface. The findings from these future investigations could further illuminate the complex dynamics at play in the formation of cavities and pave the way for innovative preventive and therapeutic measures.


The identification of Selenomonas sputigena as a significant contributor to tooth decay is a pivotal advancement in the field of dental research. This newly-discovered bacterial species, working in collaboration with Streptococcus mutans, intensifies the severity of cavities, challenging traditional notions of cavity formation. Armed with this newfound knowledge, researchers are actively exploring ways to disrupt S. sputigena’s role in cavity formation, paving the way for improved preventive measures and targeted interventions. As our understanding of the intricate interactions between bacterial species deepens, we move closer to combatting tooth decay more effectively and preserving dental health for generations to come.