Work is underway to catch gum disease before it causes major damage. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Sixty-five million adults in the U.S. have some form of periodontal or gum disease, and they're in one of two camps—chronic, meaning there's a slow progression of the disease; and aggressive, where the infection takes hold more rapidly.
The problem is the signs and symptoms for both degrees of the disease largely overlap.
"So if you want to classify the two different forms of disease according to the criteria that are published you have a pretty difficult time, clinically," says Dr. Panos Papapanou, Division Director at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine Periodontics.
The result: by the time those with aggressive periodontitis are diagnosed, irreversible damage has already occurred.
Inspired by cancer biologists, Dr. Panos Papapanou and his team of researchers at Columbia University's School of Dental Medicine, are working on a way to classify periodontal disease based on the gene expression of the affected gum tissue, and they're making progress.
"We found more severe disease in one of the two clusters. We found colonization by specific bacteria that have been associated with more severe forms of disease to be more pronounced," Papapanou says.
Of the 120 periodontal patients studied, those with the chronic disease had less of that bacteria that colonizes around the tooth, speeding up tooth decay and leading to tooth loss.
The antibodies in the aggressive patients versus the chronic were also different.
"The ideal would be to find a classification system that is founded on biology, founded on pathways that can explain why the infection consumes all of your support let’s say in 10 years while in another individual it takes 70 years to develop to the same level," Papapanou.
More studies are needed to validate the findings; we're still years away from there being a simple test that could be administered at your dentist's office.
"The ultimate goal of this would be to be able to get early markers of disease before you have the development of irreversible damage," Papapanou says.
Papapanou's work was published in the Journal of Dental Research and funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.