This article is part of the supplement: Biotechnology and Biomaterials to Reduce the Caries Epidemic
The Human Sweet Tooth
Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia PA 19104, USA
BMC Oral Health 2006, 6(Suppl 1):S17 doi:10.1186/1472-6831-6-S1-S17Published: 15 June 2006
Humans love the taste of sugar and the word "sweet" is used to describe not only this basic taste quality but also something that is desirable or pleasurable, e.g., la dolce vita. Although sugar or sweetened foods are generally among the most preferred choices, not everyone likes sugar, especially at high concentrations. The focus of my group's research is to understand why some people have a sweet tooth and others do not. We have used genetic and molecular techniques in humans, rats, mice, cats and primates to understand the origins of sweet taste perception. Our studies demonstrate that there are two sweet receptor genes (TAS1R2 and TAS1R3), and alleles of one of the two genes predict the avidity with which some mammals drink sweet solutions. We also find a relationship between sweet and bitter perception. Children who are genetically more sensitive to bitter compounds report that very sweet solutions are more pleasant and they prefer sweet carbonated beverages more than milk, relative to less bitter-sensitive peers. Overall, people differ in their ability to perceive the basic tastes, and particular constellations of genes and experience may drive some people, but not others, toward a caries-inducing sweet diet. Future studies will be designed to understand how a genetic preference for sweet food and drink might contribute to the development of dental caries.