Severe gum disease known as periodontitis can lead to tooth loss, and treating it remains a challenge. But new approaches involving silicon nitride, a ceramic material used in spinal implants, could be on the way. The surface of silicon nitride has a lethal effect on the bacteria that commonly cause periodontitis. Now scientists, reporting in ACS’ journal Langmuir, are examining why this happens. Their findings could help inform future efforts to treat the disease.
About half of American adults have some form of gum disease. It’s caused by bacteria that infect the tissue around teeth, resulting in gum inflammation. If the condition progresses, the bacteria can damage the bone that supports the teeth. In addition to tooth loss, periodontitis can increase a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke. Options for treatment include scaling and root planing, topical antibiotics and surgery. Giuseppe Pezzotti and colleagues wanted to find a new alternative by studying the reactions of bacteria to antimicrobial silicon nitride.
The researchers investigated how the ceramic material changes the metabolism of Porphyromonas gingivalis — the bacteria species primarily responsible for periodontitis. They found that chemical reactions at the surface cause the bacteria’s nucleic acids to degrade and drastically reduce the amounts of certain proteins and fats. While further studies are needed, the results show silicon nitride holds promise as a therapeutic aid for treating severe gum disease.