Bacterium That Causes Periodontitis Has Been Identified

The human mouth, as the mouth of all creatures, is a veritable breeding ground for bacteria. There are literally hundreds of types and varieties in the mouth, and it is therefore hard to tell which ones do what exactly, and how they play a role in tooth decay or gum disease. We know that if the diversity of the bacteria living in the mouth gets upset, and dominant strains start to show, that these strains cause problems and can lead to infections and all sorts of problems. But even in mouths that have healthy amounts of bacteria, we find tooth decay and periodontitis, which left us baffled, until now. 


The bacterium responsible for periodontitis has been identified, and goes by the name of NI1060. It is a frequently occurring bacterium, there are probably a few colonies living in your mouth right now. The problem is if that too many of them are present, they can start to destroy the inside of your oral cavity. But that is not all. Until now the precise mechanism between periodontitis and bone loss in the jaw has not been understood, but now that the bacterium responsible for causing periodontitis has been identified, it has also been relatively easy to find how it causes bone loss. The bone loss is actually a result of a heightened immune response, as the presence of NI1060 causes the release of a protein called Nod1 which is normally a good thing. It normally kills bacterial cells by recruiting a certain kind of cell called a neutrophil, which is a blood cell that works as an antibiotic. These neutrophils can be harmful though, and the increased presence of NI1060 gives rise to an increase in Nod1, which in turn causes more of these cells to be present, which causes the bone loss and loss of protein that is typically exhibited by patients who suffer from periodontitis. 


The series of studies that led to this discovery have all been done at the University of Michigan, and can be read in the journal Cell Host and Microbe. The studies have quite far reaching implications, as identifying the cause of an infection is an indispensable part in working out a cure. In the case of periodontitis, we knew that it was a bacterium causing the damage, but we did not know which one; now that we know, it is only a matter of time before a viable, safe cure is found.