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Capsules Could Treat Periodontal Disease

Steven R. Little, PhD, head researcher from the University of Pittsburgh

Dentists may soon have a new, better (and more desirable) method for treating periodontal disease–capsules. A research team has designed controlled-release capsules that can be injected directly between the gums and teeth. The capsules then release proteins that have been found to greatly reduce inflammation and stimulate regrowth of gum tissue. By placing the capsules between the gums and teeth, they can work at the exact site where bacteria breed and inflammation occurs.

Current periodontal treatment often includes tooth scaling and root planing (deep, non-invasive cleaning with a traditional hand scaler) coupled with antibiotics that specifically target bacteria that grow in between teeth and gums. The researchers opted for a different approach, one that would focus on the inflammation as well as the bacteria. “Although bacteria start the disease, inflammation is what keeps it going and causes progressive damage,” explained Dr. Steven Little, associate professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering, and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Once the capsules are injected, they release a protein that “acts as a homing beacon” for lymphocytes, specialized white blood cells. These white blood cells fight the bacteria, halt the disease progression, and reduce inflammation. As a result, in lab mice, the lymphocytes created favorable conditions for gum tissue to regrow and replace the diseased tissue.

Little explained that in current treatment, these white blood cells were kept away from the gums as a way to prevent inflammation from occurring at all. However, as Little said, some inflammation is needed to fight off an infection.

If this capsule treatment is released to the mass market, then it could completely revolutionize how all dentists treat periodontal disease, and there may be higher success rates for moderate to severe stages of gum disease. A capsule injection may be more preferred among patients over traditional deep scaling as well.

According to the American Academy of Periodontology, 30% of the American population may be genetically disposed to contracting gum disease. They estimate that those more susceptible to the disease than others are up 6 times more likely to develop periodontal disease, which is sadly associated with an increased risk in developing heart disease.