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Do these genes make my teeth look unhealthy?

DNA contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms. These genetic instructions are the genes that have been passed down to you by your parents. Your genes determine your height, your hair color, your eye color, and your body shape. But, did you know that genes may also play a role in gingivitis?

Researchers from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Procter & Gamble Oral Care have identified more than 9,000 genes (approximately 30% of the human genome) that are expressed differently during the onset and healing process of gingivitis. Gingivitis, which literally means inflammation of the gum tissue, is part of an immune response to bacteria. Bacterium is found in plaque-buildup on and around your teeth. Even though the area of plaque may be small the bacteria release large amounts of endotoxins. The endotoxins cause the gum tissue to become swollen, red, and inflamed. Due to the swelling the cells inside the gum tissue do not receive enough oxygen; to compensate for this lack of oxygen the cells trigger the body to produce additional capillaries near to the surface of the gums. More capillaries forming on the surface of the gums means easier bleeding when you brush or floss. This whole inflammatory process is activated by your immune system to fight the bacteria. The research team found that the specific gene expression pathways associated with stopping the plaque overgrowth and bacteria are the same as those involved in wound healing and skin repair.

The study’s main author, Steven Offenbacher, DDS, PhD, is quoted as saying, “The study’s findings demonstrate that clinical symptoms of gingivitis reflect complicated changes in cellular and molecular processes within the body. Understanding the thousands of individual genes and multiple systems involved in gingivitis will help explain exactly what is occurring in a person’s body at the onset of the disease and how it relates to their overall health.” By studying the genes and the pathways that result in gingivitis it may be possible in the future to develop new medicines that may help to prevent gingivitis. Traditionally, gingivitis has been attributed to poor oral health habits; however, with this new clinical research it may be possible to prevent and fight gingivitis using a person’s specific genes.

Dr. Jason McCargar, DMD a Scottsdale Dentist says, “While these results are promising for the future of dentistry, the most important way to treat gingivitis is to prevent it.” Currently, gingivitis can be very difficult to treat. The focus of the treatment is to remove the causative agent, the bacteria. Periodontal scaling, antibiotics, antiseptic mouthwashes, and gum surgery are just a few examples of treatment options. Gingivitis can easily progress beyond just inflammation of the gums and can infect bone tissue of the jaw. Complications of gingivitis include recurring infection, bone loss, tooth loss, and periodontitis. Dr. McCargar stresses that regular oral hygiene appointments every 6 months, and brushing and flossing twice daily helps to remove bacteria-causing plaque, keeps your teeth and your gums healthy, and helps to prevent gingivitis.