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30 May 2011 | Australasian Dental Practice

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Is your Oral Microbial Signature a risk to your overall health?

Oral Hygiene

The bacteria in the mouth could have an impact on the body's susceptibility to chronic disease, with good daily oral hygiene practices playing a role in improving overall health, according to an international microbiologist who recently toured Australia and New Zealand.

Professor John Thomas, Director of the Biofilm Research Laboratory for Translational Studies in Medicine, Dentistry and Industry at West Virginia University said "The flora in the oral cavity is the most complex, diverse and integrated of microbial systems in human beings. Distinct for each person, our unique Oral Microbial Signature changes with age and may be a predictor of our oral and systemic health.

"Biofilm (dental plaque) is an accumulation of microbial cells within a matrix.1 If biofilm becomes unbalanced, with greater numbers of pathogenic bacteria, there is an increased risk of developing caries, gingivitis, periodontitis and endodontic diseases," he said.

"The pathogenic nature of the dental plaque biofilm can be diminished in the oral cavity by reducing the bioburden and effectively maintaining a normal oral flora via oral hygiene procedures.1 A regimen that includes daily brushing, flossing and rinsing is a practical approach to the prevention of everyday dental diseases such as caries and gingivitis,1" he concluded.

Prof Thomas has published extensively on diverse microbial topics emphasising the role of oral biofilms in the relationship with systemic diseases, chronic wounds and global antibiotic resistance.

Professor Thomas has lectured in 16 countries across four continents to more than 15,000 educators and public healthcare providers. He is co-organiser of the First Asia Pacific Biofilm Congress which is to be held in China, Spring 2011.

Most recently, Prof. Thomas has focused on ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP) and poor oral hygiene predisposing high-risk patients to dental plaque colonisation by traditional respiratory pathogens. A growing body of data implicates dental plaque as a reservoir for pulmonary infection in critical care and institutionalised elderly patients.2,3

Dr Thomas integrates four academic and educational positions at West Virginia University: School of Medicine, Pathology, School of Dentistry, Periodontology, School of Pharmacy and Graduate School, Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology. He also holds teaching positions at Rutgers University and internationally is a Visiting Professor (Honorary) at Cardiff University, School of Dental Medicine as an Academic Visitor, National University of Singapore, School of Dentistry.

Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pacific, Professor Thomas provided continuing education seminars for health professionals in dental schools and associations in Auckland, Dunedin, Melbourne and Adelaide before concluding in Brisbane at the Australian Dental Association Congress.


  1. Thomas JG, Nakaishi BS (2006) Managing the complexity of a dynamic biofilm. J Am Dent Assoc. Vol. 137. 10S-15S.
  2. Thomas JG et al (2008) Impact of poor dental health on pneumonia. European Respiratory Journal. Vol 32. No 4.
  3. Paju S, Scannapieco FA (2007) Oral biofilm, periodontitis, and pulmonary infections. Oral Dis. 13: 508-512.

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