A research team from New York University (NYU) has received a 4-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) to use whole genome sequencing to identify the strains of Lactobacilli bacteria (Lb) that contribute to the development of severe early childhood caries.

Although the link between Lb and severe early childhood caries has been known for almost a century, progress in delineating which of the 140 Lb species are responsible for the disease has been elusive. The recent development of whole genome sequencing has created the opportunity to identify the bacteria.

Severe early childhood caries can destroy most of a child’s teeth by age 3, and disproportionately affects underserved populations, including American Indians and Alaskan natives.

The researchers will analyze several hundred bacteria samples from children with severe early childhood caries and their parents, and from caries-free children and their parents. Sampling and collection will take place at New York’s Bellevue Hospital Center.

The study will be lead by Page W. Caufield, DDS, PhD, professor of cariology and comprehensive care, and Yihong Li, DDS, MPH, DrPH, professor of basic science and craniofacial biology, both from NYU.

The sequencing will be conducted by co-investigators at University College in Ireland and at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom. The NYU team will collaborate with experts on bacterial genome evolution at the American Museum of Natural History to identify sequences common to children with severe early childhood caries and their parents.