Changing your biology to eliminate caries and periodontitis? A discussion on bioethical considerations

10 September 2021
1 min read

A collaboration between King’s College London’s Faculty of Dentistry, Oral & Craniofacial Sciences and the Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, resulted in a bioethical discussion on questions surrounding the use of capacity altering biological interventions to cure and prevent universal oral diseases (caries and periodontitis).

An innovative article published recently in the British Dental Journal defends the permissibility of biological human enhancement to fall within to proper domain of dentistry, exploring topics that have never been discussed in the dental science literature before.

The natural norm of human dentition is to produce only two sets of teeth that will be lost over time. Oral diseases such as dental caries and periodontitis are widely prevalent in the human species, therefore it could be argued that there is still no consensus on what the natural state of human oral health biology is. The article discusses a growing interest in the development of novel biological interventions that might, in the future, be used to prevent the onset, or even cure these conditions.

Caries and periodontitis develop as a result of a gene-environmental interaction. Incidence of these diseases have increased over the years because of the modification of human diet (environment). As a response, adaptation to human behaviour (oral hygiene habits) have been implemented to control the environmental factors contributing to the development of these diseases. However, the “gene” part of it has not been well explored in the pursuit of oral health and managing these diseases.

Lead author Vitor Neves, from King’s College London, explains, “Since untreated carious lesions and periodontitis are, still, amongst the top six most common diseases that affect humans worldwide, it is important to further explore other permissible ways to eradicate these conditions.”

In the opinion piece, ‘Beyond oral hygiene, are capacity-altering biologically based interventions within the moral domain of dentistry?’, the authors discuss the ethical issues regarding the use of biological human enhancement as a tool to contribute to eliminating these common oral diseases.

The authors argue that dentistry should seek the prevention and cure of dental caries and periodontitis using novel, biological capacity-altering interventions, in view of considerations of wellbeing and consistency with accepted dental practices.