It’s easy to blame oral bacteria for gum disease’s damage to our gums and jaws. After all, they definitely cause the disease by growing out of control, and they unleash toxins into the body.

But, it turns out, it’s not just oral bacteria that are to blame for receding gums and bone loss related to gum disease. They have an accomplice in our own body. In gum disease, one of our immune cells turns against us, causing inflammation and bone loss.

Discovery of this turncoat immune cell could be very helpful, though. Researchers found that controlling these immune cells reduced inflammation and bone loss, suggesting that in the future this might be used to reduce damage from gum disease.

Our Immune Cells Cause Inflammation and Bone Loss

Picket Forces

This research focused on the role of T helper 17 (Th17) cells. These cells are commonly found in places where the body is likely to encounter new bacteria, such as the skin, digestive tract, and, of course, the mouth. They are known to serve as part of the body’s first line of defense. For example, they protect the body against thrush, an oral infection by the fungus Candida.

However, Th17 cells have also been implicated in autoimmune problems such as psoriasis and some types of colitis. This made researchers suspect that these cells could play a role in the inflammation and damage to oral tissues related to gum disease.

When Our Cells Turn Traitor

To investigate this possibility, researchers looked at the presence of Th17 cells in mice. They found that mice with inflammation from gum disease had more Th17 in their mouths than mice that didn’t have gum disease. As gum disease got more severe, the number of Th17 cells also increased.

But this didn’t mean that the Th17 cells were actually causing the inflammation and bone loss. First, researchers wanted to see if bacteria were setting off the Th17 cells. They found that when they killed off oral bacteria with antibiotics, the number of Th17 cells dropped.

Next, researchers wanted to see if controlling the number of Th17 cells would also control the damage caused by gum disease. They genetically engineered some mice so they wouldn’t produce Th17 cells. Other mice had their Th17 cell production suppressed with drugs. They then exposed all these mice to oral bacteria.

They found that the mice who didn’t produce Th17 cells or who had them suppressed by drugs didn’t experience as much inflammation or bone loss. This suggests that controlling Th17 cells could reduce the damage from gum disease.

Protected Mutants

To see if the effect would hold up in humans, researchers looked at a group of 35 patients with a genetic defect that keeps them from producing Th17 cells. They found that these individuals had less inflammation and damage from gum disease than age- and gender-matched controls.

As a result, researchers think that targeting the Th17 cells could actually help protect people against the effects of gum disease, including receding gums and bone loss.

Restore Damaged Gums

Unfortunately, any treatment developed for this condition is unlikely to be available for years to come. And it won’t help if your gums have already been damaged. Fortunately, if you are looking to rejuvenate receding gums, we can help. Please call (949) 551-5902 today for an appointment with an Orange County cosmetic dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.