Severe Dental Problems in Children on the Rise: Finnish Innovation Keeps Tooth Decay at Bay
According to Swedish researchers, up to 20% of children have a particularly virulent strain of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) in their mouths, which has a greater-than-usual ability to cause severe tooth decay. Finnish health technology company Koite Health Oy – named one of the hottest European startups in 2022 – has launched a method for targeted removal of dental plaque to improve children’s declining oral health.
Lumoral Junior – is the latest technology on the market for improved oral health self-care developed to suit children's needs. Lumoral Junior improves children's oral care and provides a good starting point for oral health even in adulthood. The method was developed by Finnish researchers with the aim of eliminating harmful bacteria in the mouth to treat and prevent oral diseases.
Oral diseases differ from many other diseases in that they are largely preventable. Despite this, caries and gingivitis are very common diseases even in children. By influencing oral conditions through diet, oral hygiene and fluoride, children can be assured of good oral health through relatively simple daily activities.
– Oral health is a balance between the factors that protect against disease and those that make it possible to contract it. Regular eating habits, thorough mechanical brushing of teeth to remove bacteria from the mouth and regular use of fluoride all protect against tooth decay, says Heikki Alapulli, a paediatric dentist at the New Children's Hospital of HUS (Finland's largest health care provider).
Frequent consumption of high-carbohydrate foods or sugary drinks combined with poor oral hygiene are factors that contribute to dental and oral diseases. This is where the Lumoral Junior – an antibacterial oral cleaning method developed for children's needs – comes in helpful.
– We see a lot of young children with very bad teeth at our hospital. Any new ways to improve the self-care of children's teeth are therefore very welcome, Alapulli says.
Keeping oral bacteria under control
S. mutans is one of the most common bacterial species causing tooth decay. Good oral hygiene is essential to prevent these bacteria from multiplying and damaging a child's sensitive teeth. Careful mechanical brushing of teeth and the use of fluoride toothpaste are the foundation of children's oral hygiene. But even the most effective mechanical brushing is not always enough.
Lumoral Junior improves children's oral self-care and is particularly suitable for children who are prone to caries, have incipient caries or have a high S. mutans bacteria population in the mouth.
In a Swedish study published in 2017, up to 20% of children observed had a particularly virulent strain of S. mutans in their mouths. This has a greater-than-normal ability to attach to teeth surfaces, to tolerate acidic conditions in the mouth and cause more severe cases of caries, thus, challenging traditional caries methods.
– Antibacterial oral care does not replace traditional oral self-care, i.e., brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing, but the approach can inspire and enable children and parents to take better care of their teeth, says Alapulli.
The main responsibility for keeping children's teeth clean always lies with the adults – at least until the third grade of primary school, Alapulli notes.
– As children's hand motor skills develop, the responsibility for cleaning their teeth can gradually be transferred to them. But the child's oral hygiene must be monitored throughout primary school – right up to the age of 12-13.
Heikki Alapulli, a paediatric dentist at the New Children's Hospital of HUS (Finland's largest health care provider)
Antibacterial treatment works when mechanical brushing is not enough
Lumoral Junior reduces plaque formation and can be used to prevent oral bacterial diseases such as tooth decay and gingivitis. It can also be used to prevent oral mucositis caused by chemotherapy. The device is intended for regular use. Recommended use for the prevention of tooth decay is at least twice a week.
Lumoral Junior is intended for children over 3 years of age – the typical age group for use of the device is children aged 4-12 years. Lumoral Junior is only intended to be used in combination with the light-activated Lumorinse mouth rinse that attaches to the plaque of the teeth.
– Lumoral Junior improves children's self-care of their teeth even when traditional methods are not enough or when an existing oral disease requires more than just mechanical brushing and flossing, says Tommi Pätilä, a surgeon at HUS New Children's Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, and one of the developers of the antibacterial oral care method.
– Mechanical teeth cleaning methods are the key to good oral health. However, it is important to remember that brushing only removes 50-60% of plaque at best. The Lumoral Junior antibacterial method is a very effective yet gentle way of removing plaque. It also slows down the formation of new plaque, Pätilä continues.
Tommi Pätilä, a surgeon at HUS New Children's Hospital in Helsinki, Finland, and one of the developers of the antibacterial oral care method.
Good oral health protects the heart
It is important that the child's permanent teeth can develop without having been infected by caries. This makes it very likely that the child will continue to have good oral health in the future. Studies show that it also protects the child from cardiovascular disease in adulthood as well.
– Later in life, a heart attack occurs when the blood supply is cut off from the heart muscle, usually because of a blood clot. Researchers found dental bacteria in most of these clots. Thus, the importance of good oral health in managing the risk of heart disease cannot be overemphasized, Pätilä explains.
Alapulli points out that many long-term illnesses are associated with an increased risk of oral disease and that most oral diseases originate in dental biofilms. Dental biofilm is precisely where the antibacterial effect of Lumoral Junior targets.
Alapulli adds that in addition to tooth decay, gingivitis is also common in children if teeth are not cleaned thoroughly enough. Good oral health is also good for the treatment of underlying diseases. However, poor oral hygiene in childhood can be a step on the road to serious gum disease in adulthood, known as periodontitis.
– Habits learned early in life are more likely to be maintained during adulthood and children quickly learn that brushing their teeth every morning and evening is part of their daily routine. It is vital to prevent dental disease especially in children with underlying health conditions. For instance, children with heart conditions are at a higher risk of developing caries. Good oral hygiene is also one of the most important steps in preventing endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart's chambers and valves.
According to Alapulli, one of the major advantages of antibacterial treatment is that it is selective. Lumoral Junior targets hidden plaque on the teeth without disrupting normal oral flora. This is where Lumoral differs from oral anti-inflammatory antimicrobials such as chlorhexidine.
– Chemical mouthwashes also kill the good bacteria in the mouth, and with prolonged use, the mouth gets used to them, Alapulli explains.
– The use of Lumoral Junior facilitates the mechanical removal of biofilm in the child's mouth. It is, therefore, one key component of a thorough oral self-care routine to maintain children’s oral health.