Gum disease is caused by infection, but it’s not simply infection that results in the most serious consequences of gum disease, bone loss, and tooth loss. Instead, it’s partly our body’s response to infection, as high levels of infection drive the body’s immune system to implement a “scorched earth” strategy designed to eliminate an infection, even if that means removing a lot of healthy tissue along with it.
Now researchers are proposing to reprogram our body’s immune response in order to eliminate bone loss in gum disease.
It’s hard to understand why our body would respond the way it does to infection, but it actually does make sense. When an infection gets serious enough that it begins to penetrate deep into the body, it can threaten your life. Even today it sometimes happens that gum disease, or, more commonly, an infected tooth, causes an infection that spreads from the mouth to the sinuses to the brain, causing death. Our bodies developed their anti-infection protocol at a time before there was any real way to treat infections. Organisms that could fight off an infection at the cost of losing bone had a better chance than those that couldn’t fight the infection and died.
Nowadays, though, with antibiotics and other means to fight bacterial infection, we’d rather not have the body cut off the bone to spite the infection. And now researchers hope they’ve done just that.
The primary mechanism responsible for destroying bone are cells that routinely remove bone as part of healthy processes, known as osteoclasts. These cells are activated by a protein that can come from many sources, including immune cells. When a lot of immune cells are brought to an area to fight infection, they give off a lot of the protein that triggers the osteoclasts to get to work and attack the bone.
Now researchers at the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry think they can reprogram osteoclasts so they don’t respond when immune system cells congregate. If they can do this, they can stop the loss of bone that comes along with gum disease, allowing us more time to fight the infection by other means.
It will always be best to stop gum disease before it gets to that point. If you are concerned about gum disease and are looking for a periodontist in Beverly Hills, please call (310) 275-5325 for an appointment at Nicolas A. Ravon, DDS, MSD.