Mouth Microbes Influenced by Ethnicity

Researchers identify oral microbiome signatures that correlate with a person’s cultural background.

Oct 24, 2013
Tracy Vence

FLICKR, FEATHEREDTAROral infections have previously been found to correlate with ethnicity, and now researchers from The Ohio State University found that this correlation may be partly rooted in causation: ethnicity appears to actually determine colonization of the mouth microbiome. The team reported its findings in PLOS ONE this week (October 23).

Purnima Kumar and her colleagues sequenced dental plaque and saliva samples from 192 people in the U.S. representing four major ethnicities—non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites, Chinese, and Latinos—finding apparent ethnicity-specific clustering of microbial communities in biofilms isolated from the samples. The researchers also found that a machine-learning classifier was able to reliably identify a person’s ethnicity based on their subgingival microbes.

“People’s background—in terms of foods they ate and other lifestyle trends—didn’t seem to have any correlation with the bacterial communities in their mouths,” reported Surprising Science. “But their ethnicity and thus their similar genetics matched their microbiome more often than chance.”

“This is the first time it has been shown that ethnicity is a huge component in determining what you carry in your mouth. We know that our food and oral hygiene habits determine what bacteria can survive and thrive in our mouths, which is why your dentist stresses brushing and flossing,” Kumar said in a statement. “Can your genetic makeup play a similar role? The answer seems to be yes, it can.”

She added that ethnicity-specific oral microbiome signatures could have implications for a person’s risk for future disease. According to The Indian Express, “[t]he research also confirms that one type of dental treatment is not appropriate for all, and could contribute to a more personalized approach to care of the mouth.”