Regardless of how you feel about them, vaccines are nonetheless a medical miracle. Imagine preventing disease from happening. Some centuries back, it would’ve seemed like an impossible endeavor. As we learned more about our immune system and immune response, we started finding ways to prime our bodies against the disease. With more illnesses related to dental plaque cropping up, a gum disease vaccine seems to be next on the list.
And fortunately, we might just be getting it sooner than you think. Researchers from The University of Melbourne developed a gum disease vaccine that could put an end to periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease that can lead to tooth loss.
But how does the gum disease vaccine work? And why is it so important?
Periodontitis Leads to Tooth Loss
At a glance, it might seem silly to create a vaccine for gum disease, mainly because of how preventable gum disease seems.
You don’t usually get periodontitis off the bat, after all. To get to this stage of periodontal disease, you first need a build-up of dental plaque to trigger the immune response. And before progressing to periodontitis, you’ll first need to get gingivitis. Here, the gums swell and bleed easily under pressure. You can easily avoid both instances with the proper oral hygiene routine. So, why create a vaccine?
The answer lies in how much impact periodontitis creates. In Australia, one in three adults suffers from periodontitis. Often, those with the condition might not even be aware of it.
Typically, treating periodontal disease is reactive at most. It’s only once the problem’s been pinpointed that dentists use countermeasures. And for the most part, it serves its purpose well. Dentists usually prescribe a session of deep cleaning to take care of the situation. After scaling off the dental plaque and tartar, often, the condition can go away on its own.
This is easier said than done, however. Dental fear and anxiety after all, is still a prominent problem in dental care. And there’s so much constant treatment can do, particularly with a growing number of people affected by these types of diseases. A vaccine for gum disease, then, can help cut down these numbers and ensure better oral health for a more significant segment of the population.
The Gum Disease Vaccine Targets the Primary Bacterium that Causes Periodontitis
But how does the gum disease vaccine work, anyway? The University of Melbourne researchers pinpointed bacterial strains responsible for select complications that come with periodontitis. Porphyromonas gingivalis—also known as P. gingivalis—is particularly tied to the attachment loss between the teeth and gums.
Bacteria in dental plaque usually irritate the gums with the toxins they produce. P. gingivalis, on the other hand, deals with damage in two ways. Further studies on the bacterium showed that it secretes enzymes that make the immune system target itself, causing the destruction of bone and soft tissue. On top of toxin irritation, your gums also must deal with your immune system as well.
What the vaccine does is first attack those enzymes to prevent a destructive immune system response. Afterward, it produces antibodies that neutralize the toxins, preventing irritation.
So far, the vaccine has only been tested on mice. Still, The University of Melbourne scientists are confident in future clinical trials. Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to a future without missing teeth and achy gums.