Proteins and Periodontitis: Delving Into the Cause of Bone Loss

Gum disease is one of the most widespread afflictions plaguing people across the world, on every continent. While mild forms, like gingivitis, may be logged in personal experience as more of a simple annoyance– bleeding, discomfort, redness– and can be reversed by stepping up one’s oral hygiene practices, serious gum disease, like periodontitis, has real and sometimes devastating impacts.

Periodontitis means “inflammation (-itis) around (perio-) the tooth (dont). It is disease of the tooth’s supporting structures. Periodontitis has been linked with heart disease, alzheimer’s, and dementia. Within the oral health realm, untreated periodontitis can lead to tooth loss– and bone loss.

Bone loss is the subject of new research done at University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry.

How does bone loss happen?

Widespread infection of the gums around teeth, as seen in periodontitis, can lead to bone inflammation– after all, the mandible and maxilla, the bones of our jaws, are right there. Bone inflammation is called osteoinflammation— the bone tissue’s immune reaction to infection.

One of our body’s reactions to osteoinflammation is to increase a certain type of bone cell, one responsible for breaking down bone tissue, called osteoclasts (bone tissue is extremely dynamic: it is continuously built, broken down, and rebuilt depending on the body’s demands). In fact, when osteoinflammation occurs, the body doesn’t only make more osteoclasts, it makes really big ones, named, appropriately: superosteoclasts.

These superosteoclasts start breaking down bone tissue at a fast rate.

On closer inspection…

The sensible question, of course, is why would our bodies create large, bone-destroying cells when faced with inflammation? Scientists wanted to find out who was responsible, and focused their work on examining the cascade of events preceding bone loss.

The culprit?

The researchers uncovered a protein called adseverin (which, in addition to being related to bone loss, sounds like a Harry Potter character). Activated by the inflammatory response, adseverin generates giant osteoclasts.

The great news about this discovery is that adseverin is a pretty rare protein in the body, which makes it an excellent drug target. Scientists hope to use this protein in the treatment of not only periodontal disease, but other osteoinflammatory diseases as well, like osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

Our advice? Stick to the old standbys

Dental science is exciting, but preventative oral health care is still the best medicine. Twice daily brushing, once daily flossing, and regular dental appointments to your Newberg Oregon dentist are far and above the best way to prevent bone loss and other dental health disasters.

Call to schedule your next appointment now.

Photo Credit: Enzymlogic via Compfight cc

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