Dentists may be adding an unusual new tool to their treatment plans: chewing gum.
Researchers at the Julius-Maximilians-Universitat (JMU) Wurzburg in Bavaria, Germany, have developed a unique chewing gum designed to detect inflammation in the mouth.
The Problem With Peri-Implantitis
A small percentage of people with dental implants develop an infection after their implant becomes osseointegrated. Osseointegration occurs after a dental implant is surgically placed into the jaw, and bone cells grow up to or into the implant. When an implant fully osseointegrates into the bone, the implant can successfully support a dental restoration like a crown or bridge.
When an infection, known as peri-implantitis, occurs, inflammation develops in the tissue and bone that surrounds and supports the implant. Many people with peri-implantitis develop the condition years after their implant procedure.
If left untreated, peri-implantitis leads to implant failure and bone and tissue loss.
One common symptom of peri-implantitis is gum inflammation. Red or swollen gums and gums that bleed when brushed or probed at or near the implant site indicate possible peri-implantitis. Other signs of an implant-related infection include a dull ache at the implant site, swollen lymph nodes, persistent bad breath and a sour taste in the mouth.
People with peri-implantitis often experience loosening of their implant, which leaves them susceptible to further tissue damage.
"The symptoms of peri-implantitis look very similar to the symptoms of gum disease, so patients don’t always realize they have a more serious health problem brewing beneath the surface of their gums," said Dr. Steven P. Rogers, D.M.D., P.C.
Rogers is a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, dentist who uses surgically placed dental implants to replace missing or damaged teeth.
Many people with peri-implantitis experience no symptoms, which makes diagnosis difficult.
How a Specialized Chewing Gum Can Check for Peri-Implantitis
The German researchers behind the inflammation-detecting chewing gum are hoping to make diagnosis of peri-implantitis easier.
The gum detects levels of inflammation in the mouth by creating a bitter taste when it comes in contact with specific protein-degrading enzymes produced in the presence of inflammation.
Patients chew the specially designed gum for five minutes and then report to their dentist if the gum changed to a bitter taste.
Once inflammation is identified, further diagnostic testing is used to identify the source and location of the infection.
The chewing gum does not need any technical equipment to test for inflammation, which makes it possible for dentists or individuals to perform the test anywhere.
The possibility of a chewing gum diagnostic tool for identifying inflammation is exciting to Rogers because of its potential to lead to improved outcomes for dental patients.
"Giving patients the ability to do the test allows them to find out if there is a problem and then schedule an appointment for a further evaluation," Rogers said.
The Positives of Dental Implants
Three million Americans have dental implants, according to the American Academy of Implant Dentistry. The AAID reports that this number is growing by 500,000 people per year.
According to the AAID, dental implants are increasing in popularity because they look and function like regular teeth and have a very low risk of complications.
"People with dental implants can decrease their risk of developing complications like peri-implantitis by practicing good oral hygiene habits, like regular brushing and flossing," Rogers said.
Having regularly scheduled dental cleanings also reduces the risk of peri-implantitis. People with dental implants should also avoid using nicotine and tobacco products.
Some people have an increased risk of developing peri-implantitis due to other health conditions, like diabetes and osteoporosis. Patients with underlying conditions should consult their dentist about their risk of developing peri-implantitis
Source: Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, JMU. "Chewing gum rapid test for inflammation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 August 2017.
American Academy of Implant Dentistry. Dental Implants Facts and Figures. 2017.
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