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A Vaccine For Cavities

For generations, cavities have been part of life, an occupational hazard of childhood.

But CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports they are also a serious public health problem, costing kids an estimated 50 million hours of lost school time.

According to Bill Lieberman, a pediatric dentist, "cavities are the most predominant childhood disease."

Contrary to the popular belief that cavities are caused by sugar, they are actually the result of a bacterial infection and the newest technology to fight them is a vaccine.

Dan Smith of the Forsyth Institute is part of a team of researchers at Harvard University who have developed an anti-cavity vaccine. The goal is to fight the cavity causing bacteria streptococcus mutants that live in the mouth and wreak havoc on the teeth.

Unlike traditional vaccines that are injected into the body, this one is a nasal spray.

A nasal spray vaccine has several advantages, including not needing to use needles to administer it and the most direct way to reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth.

"The nasal cavity has immune tissue which is able to accept the vaccine and make antibody which will appear in the saliva," said Smith.

Pediatric dentists like Bill Lieberman also welcome the technology, but add there's a caveat to this cavity fighter.

"We don't want to mislead anybody into thinking that it's around the corner and they can avoid taking care of their children's teeth because next week there's going to be a vaccine for them," said Lieberman.

The vaccine has been safely and successfully tested in young adults, researchers hope to begin clinical trials on one year olds soon - potentially taking a bite out of that tearful trip to the dentist, for good.

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