Gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss, and the leading cause of dental implant failure. The primary mechanism that leads to the loss of teeth and dental implants is inflammation, which we mostly notice as swelling and redness. But under that swelling, massive chemical interactions are taking place, and this leads to the loss of bone tissue around teeth or implants.
Researchers are coming to understand how bones and bacteria interact to trigger bone loss, in the hope that it may help us prevent losses associated with infection.
How Bacteria Stimulate Bone Loss
There are a few different ways that bacteria can lead to bone loss. One way is by triggering the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis. When a particular kind of gum disease bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis, interacts with your tissues, it can cause them to change a particular protein that they produce. When your immune system starts to associate the changed protein with bacterial infection, it starts attacking cells that produce the changed protein.
The only problem is that some cells, such as bone cells, naturally produce this form of the protein, so your body thinks that these cells are infected, and attacks them, especially at the joints, which causes or contributes to rheumatoid arthritis.
But apparently P. gingivalis and other bacteria can also stimulate the production of osteoclasts, bone-breaker cells, that your body uses every day to help remodel and heal your bone. With these osteoclasts increased, bone loss becomes inevitable, leading to the loss of a tooth or dental implant.
A Silver Lining
However, in a recent study, we discovered something heartening. In response to the increased osteoclast activity, your body also triggers osteoblasts, cells that grow new bone. While mice in the study lost bone volume in some places associated with gum disease, such as around the teeth, they gained bone in other places.
It’s possible that with careful manipulation of these pathways, we could actually change our body’s response to gum disease, and create an infection that actually increased bone growth around your implants and teeth, rather than causing it to be lost. This might even be used instead of bone grafts.
Although this new possible technology is a long way off, we still have to remember that dental implants have a very high success rate, and that proper care and maintenance can increase success still further.