Sensory Cells in Gums Aid in the Treatment of Periodontitis

Research finds such cells present in the gums of mice

Newly discovered chemical-sensing cells in the gums protect the mouth by standing guard against infections that damage soft tissue and destroy the bone that supports the teeth, report researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in an animal study published this week in Nature Communications. With the help of bitter taste receptors that also detect byproducts from harmful bacteria, these special gum cells trigger the immune system to control the amount and type of bacteria in the mouth and could one day lead to personalized dental treatments against gum disease.

Periodontitis is a serious gum disorder induced by an imbalance in the bacteria and other microorganisms of the mouth (the oral microbiome). It is the sixth-most prevalent infectious disease and the most common cause of tooth loss worldwide.

“These sensory cells may provide a new approach for personalized treatment of periodontitis by harnessing a person’s own innate immune system to regulate their oral microbiome,” said Robert Margolskee, MD, Monell Center director and president.

The team showed that knocking out taste-signaling molecules like gustducin or genetically removing gum SCCs in the mice leads to overgrowth of pathogenic oral bacteria and periodontitis. Conversely, stimulating bitter taste receptors in SCCs promotes the production of anti-microbial molecules.

“Our study adds to a growing list of issues we now know contain SCCs and indicates that the common molecular pathways in gum SCCs are involved in the regulation of oral microbiota,” said Marco Tizzano, PhD. “In the absence of taste signaling in the gums, the oral microbiome changed in mice without gustducin.”


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