Have Researchers Found An End To Gum Disease?

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At McKinney Smiles, Dr. Paul Lawrence, Patient’s Choice Award Winner for Best Dentist in McKinney, hopes that every patient understands the risk gum disease poses to not only their oral health, but their overall health as well.

Billions of people across the globe suffer from major tooth decay, according to the recent findings of a World Health Organization-led Global Burden of Disease study. The report found that some level of tooth decay affects up to 3.9 billion people – more than half of the world’s population. While the symptoms of untreated tooth decay can range from slight oral pain to cavities, the real threat to the global health begins when tooth decay progresses into gum disease.

Hundreds of millions of people globally suffer from gingivitis and the more severe periodontitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that over half (52.9 percent) of adults over the age of 20 in the U.S. suffer from some degree of gingivitis, with levels of the disease more prominent among Mexican and African Americans. When left untreated, gingivitis can progress into periodontal disease, which causes the gums to become swollen and painful. Over time, periodontal disease destroys the bone and connective tissue that holds teeth into place, eventually leading to permanent tooth loss.

As the threat of decay continues to grow, more research into the prevention and treatment of gum disease strives to find potential solutions to this global crisis.

In a recently released report, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh laid out their proposal for a new way to treat gum disease that may help to dramatically alter the prevalence of the disease today.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy, researchers believe it possible to treat the disease by drawing specific types of cells produced by the body’s immune system to inflamed gum tissue.

A New Treatment

Currently, gum disease is treated by reducing the levels of harmful bacteria in the mouth. Brushing and flossing daily, along with regular dental cleanings, can prevent the buildup of harmful bacteria that cause gum disease. In more advanced cases of decay, root scaling and the removal of bacteria from below the gum line is used to treat the disease. While the treatment methods are effective at treating the disease before it manifests, it fails to address the primary cause of gum disease, says researchers.

Inflammation occurs in the body whenever the immune system detects bacteria and the potential for an infection to develop. Whether inflammation occurs in the heart or gums, the condition represents the leading cause of chronic disease in the body. In a healthy mouth, a balance exists that prevents the immune system from attacking bacteria, thereby preventing the development of inflammation. Unfortunately, when the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth become unbalanced, the immune system overacts, attacking both the harmful bacteria and healthy gum tissue. This leads to the development of inflammation and gum disease.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh believe the key to neutralizing the immune systems from overacting to harmful bacteria is to increase the number of immune cells referred to as regulatory T-cells in the mouth. T-cells act as a stop sign to the rest of the immune system, instructing the body to cease its attack on bacteria, thereby preventing inflammation and infection. By increasing the prevalence of T-cells in the oral cavity, researchers believe they can prevent gum disease from ever developing.

To court more T-cells to the mouth, researchers developed a special polymer that slowly releases a type of protein that attracts these types of cells. In clinical tests, researcher placed paste containing the protein around the gum line of animals suffering from periodontal disease. Researchers discovered that while the amount of harmful bacteria found in the mouths of these animals didn’t change, a marked improvement was made in treating the disease’s progression.

Should further research confirm these findings, treatment of gum disease may stop focusing on preventative medicine and shift towards elimination instead.

A Need to Brush

While the findings of this study offer hope for reducing the risks of gum disease globally, researchers still council that people still need to brush and floss. Even though T-cells can help prevent the development of inflammation and disease, they cannot prevent harmful bacteria in the mouth from eroding tooth enamel. This could lead to a future where individuals enjoy healthy gums but severely decayed teeth should they fail to practice quality oral hygiene.

So despite this breakthrough, it’s still advisable to continue brushing and flossing daily, and scheduling an appointment with your dentist in McKinney, Dr. Paul Lawrence once every six months, at least.