October 19, 2016
Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is caused when bacteria in plaque (a sticky, colorless film that forms in the mouth) builds up between the gums and teeth. When the bacteria begin to grow, the gums surrounding the tooth can become inflamed. Periodontal diseases range from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth. In the worst cases, teeth are lost.
And the problem of periodontal disease is a big one: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of adults in the US (over 64 million) are affected by it - that's twice as many people who have diabetes.
Focus on Inflammation and the Immune System
Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. In addition to bacteria, inflammation may be responsible for this association. If left untreated, inflammation can cause the gums and supporting bone structure to deteriorate, leading to gum recession or even tooth loss. Therefore, improving the treatment of inflammation may not only help manage periodontal diseases but may also help with the management of other chronic inflammatory conditions.
Researchers at UIC College of Dentistry are working to better understand the factors that lead to periodontal disease, by studying the mechanisms that trigger inflammation, at a molecular level. While normal levels of inflammation are healthy - for instance to aid in wound healing - chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease can lead to not only tooth loss, but also other chronic conditions in the body.
One focus of this research centers on microRNAs, which are molecules that regulate gene expression and play a vital role in influencing the pathways responsible for many disease processes, including cardiovascular disease and fibrosis. This research intends to demonstrate the use of microRNAs as both biomarkers (indicators of disease states or responses to a therapeutic intervention) and to generate new, less intrusive therapeutics to treat the chronic inflammation associated with periodontal disease.
"The advantage of MicroRNAs is that these compounds have great potential to positively impact many diseases processes in the body, as compared to traditional therapeutics, " said Dr. Jezrom Self-Fordham, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Periodontics, UIC College of Dentistry. "Focusing on microRNAs is also important because they regulate the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by immune cells which are the key mediators of inflammation in several diseases that impact overall health, not just diseases of the mouth," said Dr. Afsar Naqvi, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Periodontics, UIC College of Dentistry.
"Ultimately, we want our research to lead to the development of new therapeutics and diagnostic tools that will help clinicians to better control chronic inflammation and treat patients, " said Dr. Salvador Nares, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Periodontics, UIC College of Dentistry.