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Ben Wilcox
Ben is the practice principal at Shore Dental, Sydney. He graduated with a Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2004 and…

Gum Disease: is it all in the genes?

April 14, 2014 by Ben Wilcox

Oral Health Periodontal Disease

Earlier classification of periodontal disease means more efficient treatment. Image via Shutterstock.

New research may solve oral health issues sooner

Health sciences are progressing in leaps and bounds, with more refined classification processes becoming available.

Periodontal (gum) disease is commonly classified by clinical signs and symptoms, but researchers at the Columbia University Medical Centre (CUMC) have recently devised a new system for gum disease based on the genetic signature of affected tissue.

The first of its kind, this new classification system may allow for the earlier detection and individualised treatment of severe periodontitis before any serious damage occurs, such as tooth loss or the loss of supportive bone. At present, periodontal disease is classified by clinical signs and symptoms such as the severity of gum swelling and the extent of bone loss. There are two classes – chronic or aggressive – however, there can be, and usually is, a bit of overlap between the two classes.

"Many patients with severe symptoms can be effectively treated, while others with seemingly less severe infection may continue to lose support around their teeth even after therapy. Basically, we don't know whether a periodontal infection is truly aggressive until severe, irreversible damage has occurred," said CUMC's study leader, Panos N. Papapanou, DDS, PhD, professor and chair of oral and diagnostic sciences at the College of Dental Medicine at CUMC.

In order to hone in on a better way to classify gum disease, Dr Papapanou turned to cancer research as a model. According to ScienceDaily, cancer biologists in recent years have found that for certain cancers, ‘clues to a tumor's aggressiveness and responsiveness to treatment can be found in its genetic signature.' In order to discover similar patterns for periodontal disease, the team from CUMC performed genome-wide (that is, across your entire genetic material) expression analyses of diseased gingival (gum) tissue taken from patients who had been clinically classified with either chronic or aggressive gum disease.