Gum disease: Scientists identify ‘more effective methods for prevention and treatment’
The blood clotting protein fibrin has been identified as a key player in gum disease, which affects half a billion people globally. Accumulation of the protein in the gums triggers a reaction from the immune system that eats away at both the gums and the underlying bones. The research published in Science, speculates a potential future treatment that involves targeting this building up fibrin before it triggers a damaging response. They also speculate that the results could provide insight into other inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Some genetic conditions have been attributed to excess buildup of fibrin.
Deficiency of an enzyme called plasminogen, which breaks down fibrin after it has carried out it’s job or blocking a wound, has been linked to inflammatory diseases targeting the mouth and other body parts.
The researchers examined the genetic profiles of over 1,000 people and found that variations in the plasminogen gene were tied to more severe gum disease.
They also disabled this gene in mice and found that they developed severe gum disease from immune cells attacking the gums.
Lead author Lakmali Silva is hopeful that the findings can help in developing a treatment.
Preventing the destructive interactions between fibrin and the immune cells called neutrophils could rein in the damage that gum disease causes.
Silva said: “Our data support the idea that targeting the fibrin-neutrophil interaction could be a promising treatment avenue to explore in both rare and common forms of periodontitis.”
There are other inflammatory conditions caused by an overactive immune response that may also benefit from this research, including arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
The research was carried out by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research(NIDCR), a department of the National Institutes of Health.
NIDCR director Rena D’Souza, Ph.D., said: ”Severe periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and remains a barrier to productivity and quality of life for far too many Americans, especially those lacking adequate access to dental care.
“By providing the most comprehensive picture yet of the underlying mechanisms of periodontal disease, this study brings us closer to more effective methods for prevention and treatment.”
The National Institutes of Health note that this type of basic research can often form the groundwork for unpredictable future advances in the field.
Understanding the mechanisms around gene and protein interactions opens up new avenues for intervening against harmful mechanisms.
The National Institutes of Health say: “The line between discovery and medical application can be long and hard to trace.
“The fundamental knowledge gained through basic science often leads to unanticipated breakthroughs in how to predict, prevent, diagnose and treat disease.
“The return on investment from basic research over the long term is significant; most of the gains in reducing human suffering from illness and disease and extending life expectancy over the past century could not have happened without basic research.”
Gum disease affects 90 percent of adults in the UK, but not all will have a severe enough case that it damages the bones and causes tooth loss.
The early stage of gum disease, called gingivitis, is caused by build up of bacteria plaques.
The risk of this can be mitigated by regular brushing and proper dental care.
When these are left untreated, the inflammation spreads to the ligaments and bones below the teeth.