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A new gel may be able to relieve and treat symptoms of gum disease. Anna Efetova/Getty Images
  • Almost half of all adults ages 30 or older have gum disease.
  • Researchers from the NYU College of Dentistry have developed a topical gel to help treat and prevent periodontal (gum) disease.
  • In experiments in mice, the gel reduced inflammation, and bone loss by 50%.
  • Scientists hope to bring the product to market as both a gel and oral strip people can use at home.

Gum disease — clinically known as periodontal disease or periodontitis — affects almost half of all adults ages 30 years or older.

Common treatments for periodontal disease include scaling, where a dentist cleans teeth below the gum surface, antibiotic medications, and surgical options.

Now, researchers from the NYU College of Dentistry have devised a less invasive treatment option for gum disease in a topical gel.

This study was recently published in the journal Cell Reports.

When you breathe, talk, and eat, bacteria and food particles enter your mouth and can cling to your teeth. Regularly brushing and flossing your teeth helps remove them so they do not cause any health issues.

If not cleaned out, these bacteria and food particles remain on your teeth forming a sticky white substance called plaque. Is not removed through regular brushing or annual cleanings at the dentist, plaque can harden into darker-looking tartar — a substance on teeth that regular brushing cannot remove.

Build up of plaque and tartar on your teeth can irritate your gums, causing infection. Symptoms of gum disease include:

Research links gum disease to other conditions as well, including an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, erectile dysfunction, and poor cognitive function. And a study in 2008 linked periodontal disease to an increased risk for certain cancers in men.

Following good oral hygiene habits is the best way to prevent gum disease. However, some people are more prone to periodontitis, such as tobacco users. Some people are genetically at a higher risk for developing gum disease. And some medications, such as steroids and oral contraceptives, are risk factors for periodontal disease.

In order to fully remove plaque and tartar buildup causing gum disease, a dentist normally performs deep dental cleaning techniques, including scaling and root planing. These processes allow the dentist to remove plaque and tartar on all surfaces of the teeth, including below the gum line.

If gum disease does not improve through scaling, a dentist may move to surgical options, including flap surgery, tissue and/or bone grafting, and tissue regeneration.

“There have been limited advances in the treatment of periodontal disease over the last 40 years,” explained Dr. Yuqi Guo, an associate research scientist in the Department of Molecular Pathobiology at NYU Dentistry and co-first author of this study.

“Root surface debridement is the most common treatment, which is painful and often requires multiple visits to the dental office. Our noninvasive treatment for gum disease aims to offer people an alternative at-home option to prevent or treat gum disease.”
— Dr. Yuqi Guo

According to Dr. Guo, the topical gel developed by the research team works by targeting and blocking the receptor for succinate — a naturally occurring molecule produced during metabolism.

“The level of succinate increased in patients with periodontitis and our previous study discovered that succinate elevation led to activation of the succinate receptor to stimulate inflammation and bone loss,” Dr. Guo told Medical News Today. “These findings made the succinate receptor an appealing target for countering inflammation and bone loss — and potentially stopping gum disease in its tracks.”

For the study, Dr. Guo and her team administered the topical gel compound to human gum cells in a laboratory setting. Scientists reported the compound reduced inflammation and processes that lead to bone loss.

Researchers also applied the topical gel to the gums of mice with gum disease. They observed a reduction in local and systemic gum inflammation, as well as bone loss, in a few days.

“When the gel was applied to the gums of mice with gum disease every other day for four weeks, the bone loss was reduced (by) 50%,” Dr. Guo added. “Mice treated with the gel also had significantly less inflammation and prominent changes to the bacterial composition in their mouths.”

Dr. Guo said the research team’s next steps for the topical gel are to test its efficacy in a non-human primate model and determine its safety through toxicity tests.

“Our long-term goal is to develop both gel formulations and oral strips that can be used at home by people with or at risk for gum disease, as well as a stronger, slow-release formulation that dentists can apply to pockets that form in the gums during gum disease,” she continued. “Ultimately, we wish to present an at-home easy-to-apply treatment for human patients, as well as our fuzzy friends who are also bothered by gum problems.”

MNT also spoke with Dr. Sally J. Cram, a periodontist in Washington, DC, and spokesperson for the American Dental Association, about this study.

“This is exciting, but preliminary research [b]ecause it is based on studies and findings in cell cultures and animal models and has yet to be tested in human subjects, both healthy — to test safety — and those with periodontal disease — to test efficacy.”
— Dr. Sally J. Cram

“Ultimately, there would need to be randomized clinical trials of the experimental drug in human subjects with periodontal disease showing that the drug has a positive effect on health outcomes and does not have adverse effects,” Dr. Cram continued. “Comparisons with conventional periodontal treatment would also be helpful in determining the place of this therapy in the treatment of gum disease,” Dr. Cram added.