Protein capsules fight a toothy battle

Worried about losing your smile? Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, but tiny packets of protein packed down between the gums and the teeth could help combat it, according to research presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Gum disease starts with inflammation triggered by the bacteria in plaque, but what seems to keep the disease going is an imbalance in the immune response leading to a lack of a specific type of lymphocytes (white blood cells). As the disease progresses, the gums, the ligaments supporting the teeth and even the bone tooth sockets become damaged. Treatment includes scaling, root planning, and use of local antibiotics. Gum disease has also been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and preterm delivery in pregnant women.

The researchers created biomimetic polymer capsules filled with a naturally occurring chemokine that attracts the lymphocytes back to the gum. The polymer biodegrades, releasing the protein in a controlled manner. In mouse studies, the capsules reduced the symptoms of gum disease.

"The capsules dissolve over time, releasing a protein that acts as a homing beacon. It guides immune cells to the diseased area, reducing inflammation, creating an environment that fights the disease process and even could create conditions favorable for gum tissue to regrow," Steven Little of the University of Pittsburgh said in his presentation at the conference. The research doesn't seem to have made it to humans yet, so in the meantime, keep up with the toothpaste and dental appointments!

- read the press release
- see the abstract