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Bacteria Causing Gum Disease May Turn Your Immune System Against You

teeth health dentist smileGingivitis is one of the most common oral health problems. It is caused by the growth of bacteria (referred to as plaque)  in areas that you miss with your cleaning.

Gingivitis starts as redness of the gums. Other symptoms follow later including bad breath, puffiness, bleeding and even fully blown gum disease or periodontitis. Grave consequences of gingivitis include loosening of teeth and tooth loss.

Some of the bacterial species in plaque are detrimental to oral health, others are less troublesome. One species known as Porphyromonas gengivalis, when found in high quantities, will significantly increase the risk of periodontitis (gum disease).

Studies carried out many years ago revealed that the bacterium was so problematic due to its ability to invade into the cells of your gum. The bacterial invasion causes bleeding gums and even cell death and subsequent gum recession.

But that was only a fraction of the story. It was not until 2001 that the involvement of the immune system was identified in gum disease, similar to other chronic inflammatory diseases. The presence of Porphyromonas gengivalis caused cellular inflammation within gum tissue. The type of immune response mounted by the body led to the destruction of gum and bone cells in that area.

Researchers, through the use of a combination of microbial and human cell cultures, have identified a particular protein, called Gingipain, to be the source of long-term inflammation occurring in the gums. The researchers point out that the bacterium is most troublesome when the protein is dormant, when there is lack of enzyme activity. When Gingipain is active, there is relatively little or no inflammation.

Perhaps more importantly, the researchers found that trouble was caused by a biological factor known for being involved in long-term inflammation elsewhere in the body. The factor was referred to as interleukin-6 (IL-6). Blockage of IL-6 led to decreased inflammation.

The researchers report that a potential medication to stop the progression of gum disease may not be far away. A similar pharmaceutical route already exists although at present it only is approved for another IL-6 based chronic condition, rheumatoid arthritis.

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Dr Ashley Davenport BDS MFGDP(UK)

I qualified as a dentist in 1995 and can honestly say that I have been doing a job that I love for the past 20 plus years. Most people who know me well know that dentistry is a passion for me and that if I won the lottery I would still want to have some dentistry in my life. I get huge satisfaction from treating patients and making a difference to ...

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Dr Catherine Myatt BDS MFGDP(UK)

Cath joined the practice as a dentist in 2002.  She and Ashley met on their postgraduate Vocational Training course in Birmingham when they ended up working at the same practice in West Bromwich.  When Ashley was looking for an associate at Balsall Common Dental Practice, Cath came to take the role and she has been here ever since.  In 2017 Cath...

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Last updated: September 28th, 2023

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