Researchers at the University at Buffalo have identified two components of saliva that may serve as the basis for novel tests to determine the risk for future loss of the bone that holds teeth in place.
By comparing dental X-rays of 100 patients with analyses of their saliva, the researchers found that higher-than-normal levels of a salivary protein called IL-1-beta were associated with increased bone loss.
The level of another protein, osteonectin, was inversely proportional to bone loss, suggesting this marker may serve as a measure of periodontal health.
Results of the research, a collaboration between the UB School of Dental Medicine and the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, were presented at the annual meeting of the International Association of Dental Research held in Orlando, Fla.
"These results show that above-average levels of IL-1 beta in saliva may prove to help the dentist decide whether or not to treat the dental patient for periodontal disease," said lead researcher Frank Scannapieco, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Oral Biology in the UB dental school.
"Currently there is no early warning test for bone-loss activity," Scannapieco added. "We can measure gum pocket depth, or the amount of bone remaining on an X-ray, but these methods only tell us how much damage already has been done. If these findings hold up in future longitudinal studies, the dental practitioner might use a test to decide what interventions are needed for the patient, and perhaps the frequency for recall visits.
"This biomarker test also could provide a quick and easy way to monitor patients over the long-term and to determine if a particular treatment is working," he said.
Periodontal bone loss is a serious oral-health condition that can cause teeth to loosen and fall out. The availability of a simple test would reduce the need to submit every patient to expensive, time-consuming and often uncomfortable X-rays and pocket-probing exams, which measure how much of the tooth-supporting bone already has been lost due to periodontal (gum) disease. Such a test also may help a dentist decide how often a patient needs tooth cleaning.
Previous studies had identified specific protein biomarkers of bone destruction in fluid collected from gum crevices in patients with active periodontal disease, but collecting enough of this fluid for analysis can be tedious and time consuming, whereas saliva is plentiful and easily collected.
The research team now is performing follow-up studies to determine the validity of their results.