Do heredity, genes play a role in gum disease?

September 11, 2012 3:17:50 PM PDT
Heredity is so important in whether or not you get an illness, that doctors often joke "pick your parents carefully." However, one area in which that has not been true is severe destructive gum disease - at least not until now.

Severe gum infections with bone and teeth damage are called periodontitis. Now, a group of dental scientists is trying to find a link between the destructive process and the genes which run in a patient's family.

If you had a heart attack, one of the first things doctors ask about is your family history. Now, for people with severe gum disease such as Pieter Sommen, doctors are asking the same questions.

"My patients both had dentures at a young age - in their forties and fifties," said Sommen.

Sommen had peridontitis, and his mouth looked like that of these patients. The disease damages gums, teeth and bone. His family history suggests that a gene, or genes may be at work, and finally, doctors are looking for the link.

"The idea of examining these gene patterns is something that's never been done, and to see it come to light is very exciting," said Steven Engebretson, DMD at NYU Dental School.

Not every patient will respond to the same treatment. A certain grouping of genes may tell who will benefit, and who won't.

To check someone's gene profile, doctors take a sliver of gum tissue under local anesthesia, and send it to the lab for analyzing the DNA.

A gene chip separates the genes, comparing one patient to another, looking for differences to explain why a treatment improves one but not both. For peter, surgery, brushing and flossing were what worked for him.

"It feels better, and it's a very funny thing to say, but my teeth feel good," adds Sommen.

Gene analysis may not hit your dentist's office for awhile, but it is heading there.

"We don't know where we're going with this, but as they say, if we know where we're going, it wouldn't be research," said Dr. Engebretson.

Dr. Engbretson thinks it might be 5-10 years before your dentist will take a cheek swab to send for gene analysis, but at the speed with which this kind of research is moving, may shorten the time from the lab to the dentist's office.

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