Justin Kaspar, PhD, Conducts Research on Bacteria that Cause Tooth Decay

Justin Kaspar, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Division of Biosciences, leads a research team whose recent work has focused on investigations of Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium that is commonly found in the human mouth. As a primary driver of dental caries, S. mutans produces organic acids as it consumes dietary sugars that demineralize tooth enamel.  

Justin Kaspar
Justin Kaspar, PhD

Supported by an R03 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) - National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), Dr. Kaspar's work is aimed at understanding complex exchanges between microbes that inhabit the oral cavity, with the potential of uncovering new pathways that could serve as targets for therapeutic interventions. These interventions would be tailored to selectively remove pathogens like S. mutans from the oral cavity, while keeping the normal, healthy microbiome intact.

His research team's most recent findings have been published in the Journal of Dental Research, a highly respected, peer-reviewed publication that is dedicated to all sciences relevant to dentistry, the oral cavity, and associated structures in health and disease. Dr. Kaspar's article is titled "Growth with Commensal Streptococci Alters Streptococcus mutans Behaviors." It provides insights into the ways that "good" and "bad" bacteria respond to the presence of each other, and potential strategies used by each to compete against the other. The long-term goal is to develop strategies that would tilt the balance of this competition, favoring optimal outcomes for the “good” bacteria while keeping the “bad” bacteria from emerging and causing disease.

In addition to his R03 grant from the NIDCR, Dr. Kaspar recently was awarded a $25,000 seed grant from Ohio State's College of Dentistry. The grant supports his examination of the cariogenic organism Streptococcus sobrinus and its relationship with Streptococcus mutans.

According to Dr. Kaspar, one of the goals of this investigation is to uncover critical pathways that lead to worsened decay when the two bacteria are found together, with the ultimate goal of uncovering strategies that would disrupt this relationship and prevent severe decay. Additionally, the project will help expand knowledge about S. sobrinus, an understudied pathogen compared to S. mutans, by learning how these bacterial species cause tooth decay, and paving the way for specific prevention or treatment strategies.
Learn more about Dr. Kaspar's research. 

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