Canada’s First Plaque Bank Offers New Hope For Disease Prediction, Treatment

Imagine one day being able to diagnose diabetes, heart disease, or even cancer using a bacteria-filled tongue scraping the size of a pinhead.

This technology isn’t science fiction, but a real possibility thanks to the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry’s new Oral Microbiome and Metagenomic Research and Training (OMMRT) Laboratory.

Following mounting evidence suggesting strong correlatives between oral and overall health, the OMMRT, a multidisciplinary research and clinical surveillance unit at the U of T Faculty of Dentistry, has established Canada’s first plaque bank to investigate and treat disease by studying bacterial plaque found in the mouth.

Research findings

Scraped from easily accessible areas such as the tongue, bacteria are harvested which then undergo DNA fingerprinting. The different types and numbers of bacteria present are identified and catalogued, giving researchers snapshots of the bacteria in health and disease. It’s hoped to eventually use the bacterial biomarkers to diagnose disease, but also to prognosticate which diseases, such as chronic gum diseases, may prove resistant to standard treatments.

While bacteria are being studied as a diagnostic tool, they are also being hailed as a possible treatment. Using an artificial mouth, the OMMRT’s Dr. Senadheera is investigating plaque transplantation therapies, where engineered bacterial colonies are transplanted orally to fight disease.

“We want to create new knowledge about underlying causes of oral disease,” says Dr. Howard Tenenbaum, Co-Director of the OMMRT and Professor at the Faculty of Dentistry. “We hope this can lead to personalized bio-therapies.”

Using Technology to Improve Access to Dental Care for Canadians

Oral health is integral to general health and well-being. Dental diseases are preventable and manageable if patients have a regular dental home.

But, many Canadians suffer unnecessary pain and hardship because they face access to care barriers and do not have a regular dental home from which to receive care.

Access to care barriers come in many forms. Patients may live hundreds of kilometers from the nearest clinic. They may face cultural or language barriers preventing them from seeking care. They may not be able to afford the cost of dental care. They may be homebound, in long-term care, or have complex medical conditions preventing them from visiting a dental clinic.

Research findings

Using Geographic Information System (GIS) computer modelling, University of Saskatchewan, College of Dentistry, is creating 3-D pictures of where Canadians face access to care barriers and why. GIS enables them to geographically map the physical locations of dental clinics and services and how that location relates to the oral health, general health, and socio-economic status (SES) of the population.

With this research, we can now link clinic location to populations and assess variables as diverse as poverty level, lone-parent households, home ownership, or living in dwellings requiring major repair. These measureable connections help determine their influence on the ability of Canadians to access care across inner-city neighbourhoods, cities, rural and remote communities, entire provinces, and eventually all of Canada. This advancement will enable us to develop better ways to help all Canadians access dental care in a timely manner.