Gum disease is a common condition that, in severe cases, calls for antibiotics. Now, researchers are developing a treatment based on wild blueberry extract that could prevent the formation of dental plaque that leads to gum disease.

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Researchers are developing a treatment to fight gum disease that is based on wild blueberry extract.

A report on the work, by a team from Université Laval in Canada, can be found in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Many people have some degree of gum inflammation, or gingivitis, that results from the build-up of dental plaque containing bacteria. However, if the inflammation persists, it eventually leads to gum or periodontal disease.

If the bacterial plaque is not removed – for example, by regular brushing and gum care – it leads to a much harder deposit called tartar that only a dental health professional can remove to stop the periodontal disease process.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of American adults aged 30 and over have some form of periodontal disease.

In severe cases of periodontal disease, the dentist may also prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection.

Fast facts about gum disease
  • Gum disease and tooth decay are the two biggest threats to dental health
  • Smoking, diabetes and poor oral hygiene increase the risk of developing gum disease
  • Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums and persistent bad breath or bad taste are some of the signs of gum disease.

Learn more about dental care

The team behind the new study has been investigating a range of natural antibacterial compounds to fight gum disease. More recently they began to look at blueberry polyphenols, which are known to protect plants against some diseases.

They wondered if the compounds – which they found in extracts from the wild lowbush blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium Ait. – might have an effect on Fusobacterium nucleatum, a bacterium that plays a key role in gum disease.

Lab tests showed the compounds successfully stopped the bacterium growing and forming biofilms. Tests on macrophages – immune system cells that play a key role in inflammation – also showed that the polyphenol-rich extract blocked a molecular pathway that is involved in inflammation.

Biofilms are precursors to plaques. They consist of a matrix of substances the bacteria cells produce and in which they embed themselves.

The researchers conclude:

This dual antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action of lowbush blueberry polyphenols suggests that they may be promising candidates for novel therapeutic agents.”

The team is now developing an oral device that slowly releases the extract after deep cleaning to help treat gum disease.

Poor gum health has also been linked to a number of other diseases. For example, Medical News Today has learned that improving gum health may reduce heart risk, and that poor oral hygiene or gum disease is linked to higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.