Microbiological studies of occlusal dental biofilms have hitherto been hampered by inaccessibility to the sampling site and demolition of the original biofilm architecture. This study shows for the first time the spatial distribution of bacterial taxa in vivo at various stages of occlusal caries, applying a molecular methodology involving preparation of embedded hard dental tissue slices for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and confocal microscopy. Eleven freshly extracted teeth were classified according to their occlusal caries status. The teeth were fixed, embedded, sectioned and decalcified before FISH was performed using oligonucleotide probes for selected abundant species/genera associated with occlusal caries including Streptococcus, Actinomyces, Veillonella, Fusobacterium, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The sites showed distinct differences in the bacterial composition between different ecological niches in occlusal caries. Biofilm observed along the entrance of fissures showed an inner layer of microorganisms organized in palisades often identified as Actinomyces, covered by a more loosely structured bacterial layer consisting of diverse genera, similar to supragingival biofilm. Biofilm within the fissure proper seemed less metabolically active, as judged by low fluorescence signal intensity and presence of material of non-bacterial origin. Bacterial invasion (often Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp.) into the dentinal tubules was seen only at advanced stages of caries with manifest cavity formation. It is concluded that the molecular methodology represents a valuable supplement to previous methods for the study of microbial ecology in caries by allowing analysis of the structural composition of the undisturbed biofilm in caries lesions in vivo.

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