Medicine & Dentistry-Dentistry and Dental Hygiene
University of Alberta
Summary of research:
When the Titanic sank, it was believed to have been caused by a massive gash in its hull as a result of striking an iceberg. Decades later, when the ship was found, a major surprise was that there was no gash, but instead a handful of narrow slits where the bow plates had parted. In 2008, researchers published the book “What Really Sank the Titanic”, in which they detailed how steel rivets were replaced with those made from less strong materials, and could have "popped" as a result of the crash with the iceberg, allowing seawater to rush in. Thus, a break in the protective outer steel barrier of the ship, as a result of the failure of a small joining component, led to one of the greatest maritime disasters of all time. The cells lining our mouth, like those steel plates of the Titanic, also have to form a protective barrier, against the millions of bacteria found there. These cells form a tight seal as a result of small proteins--much like rivets. Scientists have found that some bacteria associated with a form of aggressive gum disease in patients under 30, can reduce the amount of a protein called loricrin, which can be thought of as a type of rivet responsible for maintenance of the barrier between bacteria and host. We think that as a result of the weakening of the oral barrier due to reduction in loricrin, the bacteria begin to invade into the tissues, leading to defensive action by the body. This manifests as inflammation of the gums: a battle between immune cells and bacteria. The body has an arsenal of weapons that kill bacteria, but can also destroy the bone structure that holds the teeth in place. In these young patients with this aggressive form of gum disease, the body's response is somehow dysfunctional. This dysfunctional aspect of the response is an inherited trait, but different families can have different dysfunctions, with the end result all being a similar terrible loss of bone and teeth. We think that what is in common in these patients is the reduction of loricrin that leads to a breach in the oral barrier and initiates the body's response. Our project is to determine if loricrin is reduced in aggressive gum disease in our study population, and if this leads to a break in the protective barrier of the mouth, and the dramatic inflammation that follows.