Research suggests that mutans streptococci play an important role in cariogenesis in children but the usefulness of bacterial testing in risk assessment is unknown. Our objective was to summarize the literature assessing the association of mutans streptococci and dental caries in preschool children, (Pre)Medline (1966–2003), Embase (1980–2003), the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (2003, issue 3), and reference lists of included studies were searched. All abstracts found by the electronic searches (n = 981) were independently scrutinized by 2 reviewers. Minimal requirements for inclusion were assessment of preschool children without caries at baseline, reporting of mutans streptococci present in saliva or plaque at baseline and assessment of caries presence after a minimum of 6 months of follow-up. Participants’ details, test methods, methodological characteristics and findings were extracted by one reviewer and cross-checked by another. Homogeneity was tested using χ2 tests. Results of plaque and saliva testing were pooled separately using a fixed effects model. Methodological quality of reports was low. Out of 9 studies included, data from 3 reports on plaque test assessment alone (n = 300) and from 4 reports on saliva test assessment alone (n = 451) were available for pooled analysis. The pooled risk ratio (95% CI) was 3.85 (2.48–5.96) in studies using plaque tests and 2.11 (1.47–3.02) in those using saliva testing. Presence of mutans streptococci, both in plaque or saliva of young caries-free children, appears to be associated with a considerable increase in caries risk. Lack of adjustment for potential confounders in the original studies, however, limits the extent to which interpretations for practice can be made.
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