Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s School of Dentistry say a visit to the dentist could eventually require a detailed look at a patient’s genes.
The team wrote in the Australian Dental Journal that one day dentists may have to look at a patient’s genes to determine which ones are being switched on and off. The researchers believe that this field of epigenetics will have a big role to play in the future of dental hygiene.
“Our genetic code, or DNA, is like an orchestra – it contains all of the elements we need to function – but the epigenetic code is essentially the conductor, telling which instruments to play or stay silent, or how to respond at any given moment,” co-author Associate Professor Toby Hughes said in a statement.
He said in terms of oral health, epigenetic factors help orchestrate healthy and unhealthy states in our mouths.
“They respond to the current local environment, such as the type and level of our oral microbes, regulating which of our genes are active. This means we could use them to determine an individual’s state of health, or even influence how their genes behave. We can’t change the underlying genetic code, but we may be able to change when genes are switched on and off,” Hughes said.
He and colleagues at the university have been studying the underlying genetic and environmental influences on dental hygiene. Hughes says that since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2007, epigenetics has had an increasing role in biological and medical research.
“Dentistry can also greatly benefit from new research in this area,” Hughes said in a statement. “It could open up a range of opportunities for diagnosis, treatment and prevention.”
Scientists already know that genome plays a role in dental development, as well as a range of other oral disease. They also understand that oral microbiota plays a key role in the state of oral health.
“We now have the potential to develop an epigenetic profile of a patient, and use all three of these factors to provide a more personalized level of care,” says Hughes. “Other potential oral health targets for the study of epigenetics include the inflammation and immune responses that lead to periodontitis, which can cause tooth loss; and the development and progression of oral cancers.”
Eventually, the researchers say this technique could mean dentists will be able to create a “personalized medicine” approach to managing common oral diseases in patients.
“What’s most exciting is the possibility of screening for many of these potential oral health problems from an early age so that we can prevent them or reduce their impact,” Hughes said.