Is there really a gum disease gene?

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Scientists have identified genes that may cause gum disease.

This could mean dentists being able to tailor dental treatment to halt severe periodontitis, stopping any tooth loss or loss of bone.

The study is the first of its kind and may go some way to developing compounds that can be used in preventative dental care.

The results have just been published in the Journal of Dental Research.

The team ‘reverse-engineered’ the gene expression data to build a map of the genetic interactions that lead to periodontitis and identify individual genes that appear to have the most influence on the disease.

Dr Panos N Papapanou, professor and chair of oral, diagnostic and rehabilitation sciences at the College of Dental Medicine at CUMC, said: ‘Our approach narrows down the list of potentially interesting regulatory genes involved in periodontitis. This allows us to focus on the handful of genes that represent the most important players in the process rather than the whole transcriptome.’

The researchers examined RNA from healthy and diseased gum tissues of 120 patients with periodontitis. They applied one algorithm to study the interactions among the genes and used another algorithm to identify genes that disrupt healthy tissue and drive the disease process.

Many of the genes identified by Dr Papapanou and his team are implicated in immune and inflammatory pathways, confirming laboratory and clinical observations of the development of periodontal disease.

Identification of the master regulator genes will allow investigators to test compounds that interrupt their action, creating treatments that stop periodontal disease at its source.

According to statistics from the World Health Organisation, 15-20% of adults aged 35-44 suffer severe periodontal (gum) disease, which may result in tooth loss.

Risk factors include poor oral hygiene, an unhealthy diet, smoking and a high alcohol intake.

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