Pediatric Dentist Applies Science to Prevent Cavities

Kate Rauch on February 10, 2012
Ling Zhan, DDS, PhD

Pediatric dentist Ling Zhan, DDS, is also a dental scientist who wants to apply basic science to prevent cavities.

Pediatric dentist Ling Zhan, DDS, PhD, an assistant professor in the UCSF School of Dentistry, is building a path to something children and parents the world over welcome: fewer cavities.

Cavities are the number one infectious disease in children in the U.S. Every year, nearly $4.5 billion is spent to treat them and about 1.6 million school days are missed annually related to dental decay. The prevalence of this disease is five times higher than asthma.

Zhan is an emerging leader in the use of xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar alcohol, to prevent tooth decay in children. Research shows that the sweet-tasting substance, which is extracted from the fibers of fruits, vegetables and other vegetation, have the potential to prevent cavities. Xylitol, commercially used as a sugar substitute, is lower in calories than sucrose and appears to diminish the negative dental effects of oral bacteria.

Many of the children Zhan sees in her research and clinic are suffering from significant tooth decay.

“In the traditional dental clinic, we’re normally only fixing the cavities, but not treating the cause,” Zhan said. “I’m a dentist, but also a dental scientist. Cavities can be readily prevented, and I want to see if there’s anything I can apply from basic science to fix this.”

In a recent study, Zhan and her team found that xylitol can prevent cavities in infants. In the findings, which Zhan presented in the 2nd International Conference on Novel Anticaries and Remineralizing Agents, infants whose gums were wiped daily with xylitol by their parents had nearly eight times fewer dental carries after one year than those who used wipes without xylitol. The study will be published in the Journal of Dental Research later this year.

Read the entire story on the Clinical and Translational Science Institute's website