Periodontal disease is a condition caused by a buildup of dental plaque and bacteria in the mouth. It can lead to symptoms running the gamut from milder forms of gum inflammation to more serious damage to surrounding soft tissues and even bone.
According to a 2011 report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), it is also the fifth most prevalent health problem facing Australians with around 90 per cent of all tooth loss attributable to either gum disease or dental caries (tooth decay).
There are several options for treating periodontitis, from cleaning and flossing to visiting a cosmetic dentist for dental implants. Antibiotics may also be required if the case is particularly advanced.
However, a new animal study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has revealed the potential of using immune system cells to fight the symptoms of inflamed gums.
While current treatments look at halting the disease by addressing the surface problem of built up bacteria, the researchers aimed to tackle the issue from the root source.
They worked on the basis that this bacteria buildup could be a trigger for the immune system, prompting it to work overtime to get rid of the bacteria and causing an inflammation in the oral tissues as a result.
Special T-cells in the body help to regulate an overactive immune response, but there has been previous evidence showing diseased tissues have a deficient level of these cells.
To combat this, researchers developed a paste-like agent which could be used to attract these T-cells and placed it between the gums and teeth of animals with periodontal disease. Using this treatment led to decreased pocket depth and gum bleeding, two standard measures of periodontitis.
In addition to this, MicroCT-scanning revealed lower rates of bone loss. If the treatment is developed and further refined, it could have the potential to make a difference in human patients as well.