New Early Detection Test for Gum Disease

***UPDATED: November 3, 2014*** According to a new study out of UCLA, spit just got a whole lot cooler. In addition to playing a vital role in oral health, scientists have discovered that saliva contains many of the same molecules used to detect disease in blood. This astonishing breakthrough means that the early detection of a number of diseases could be as simple as a mouth swab, potentially saving the lives of millions. Researchers claim that the discovery could lead to tests developed for diabetes, oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, gastic cancer, neurological disorders, and even autoimmune diseases. The saliva test might even be able to determine if you have a disease before you begin to show symptoms. The study was published online by the peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Chemistry, and discussed at length in a recent Medical News Today article.

Over half of American adults are affected by periodontal (gum) disease.  The condition ranges in severity from simple inflammation to a serious disease that causes major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support teeth.  In worst case scenarios, teeth are often lost; however gum disease is very treatable if detected early and can easily be avoided with proper oral hygiene.  The early stage of gum disease is referred to as gingivitis.  Bacteria are always present in the mouth, and when combined with mucus and other particles, form a sticky, colorless, “plaque” that attaches to the teeth.  This plaque can be removed simply by brushing and flossing, however if it’s not cleaned off, it will harden to form tarter, which only a professional cleaning can eliminate.  Tarter can cause inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, which is reversible with daily brushing and flossing, coupled with regular cleanings by a dentist or hygienist.  When gingivitis isn’t treated, it can and will advance to periodontitis, when gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets that become infected.  As the bacteria and plaque spread and grow below the gum line, the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place begins to break down.  If not treated, bone, gums, and tissues are destroyed, often leading to tooth loss.

Periodontitis has been scientifically linked to several chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia, making early detection and treatment crucial for those suffering from the condition.  Symptoms of the disease include inflammation of the gums, bad breath that won’t go away, pain when chewing, receding gum lines, tender or bleeding gums, and loss of teeth.  If experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your dentist immediately as they may be a sign of a more serious problem.  To determine if you do in fact have gum disease, your dentist will likely examine your gums and teeth and measure any and all pockets that are present.  He will also likely discuss your medical history to assess for common risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes, cancer, medications, genetic susceptibility, and hormonal changes.  Unfortunately, many patients avoid their dentists until symptoms are so severe that treatment is necessary, which may include deep cleaning, medications, and in some situations, surgery.   Again, the earlier the disease is detected, the simpler it is to treat, making a recently discovered gum disease detection test very promising.

Dentists at the Temple’s Maurice H. Kornberg School of Dentistry have developed a simple color-changing oral strip that can detect the disease more quickly than traditional screening methods.  Lead researcher, Ahmed Khocht, DDS, associate professor of periodontology, claims that the strip changes from white to yellow depending on levels of microbial sulphur compounds found in the saliva.  The higher the concentration levels, the more serious case of gum disease, with results showing a darker shade of yellow on the strip.  Khocht believes the strips are quick and easy to use and can become standard in routine examinations to detect the disease even earlier.  He also said that “because the strips can change color, they can also act as a benchmark to help doctors find the right treatment for their patient and monitor their progress.”  This is very exciting news for those on the front-lines of America’s battle with one of the fastest growing epidemics, gum disease.

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