A mouth with gum diseaseWe know that we have currently identified only a small portion of the total bacterial load that people have in their bodies. We also know that this so-called bacterial “dark matter” might play an important role in many health conditions, including gum disease, and all the health consequences that derive from it.

Now researchers have announced that they have grown one of these bacteria in the lab for the first time, and hope that it will soon be helping us to understand the complex processes that result in gum disease’s destructive effect on our gums and jawbone.

Growing the Ungrowable

For an idea of how unknown this new bacterium is, it doesn’t have a name. In fact, it’s only known by the phylum to which it belongs–which isn’t named yet, either! The phylum is just designated TM7, and the bacterium is known as TM7x. Genetic testing has shown that people with serious gum disease have a lot of bacteria from this phylum, but because we haven’t been able to grow these bacteria in the lab before, we haven’t been able to study what they do and therefore determine what role they might play in gum disease.

One of the first discoveries that came with cultivating these bacteria is that they are actually parasites on another type of bacterium. That bacterium does have a name, Actinomyces odontolyticus, and a designation of its own XH001. It’s also very commonly found in people who suffer from advanced gum disease. Researchers found they could only grow TM7x on a substrate of XH001. They tried to cultivate it with several other bacteria, but only XH001 served as an adequate host.

Correlation Is Not Causation

Researchers had assumed that because TM7x was very prevalent in people with advanced gum disease, it must play a role in making gum disease worse. However, it turns out that the opposite might just be true: this bacterium might actually work to make gum disease less serious.

Remember, the damage from gum disease is only partly due to the action of bacteria. Part of it is due to our body’s extreme immune response to the presence of large amounts of bacteria, a very extreme form of the inflammatory response. So when researchers wanted to know the role TM7x played in gum disease, they wanted to test how it affected the inflammatory response. To do this, they cultivated XH001 and TM7x in bone marrow. They found that XH001 alone provoked a larger inflammatory response, but when TM7x was introduced, the response went down. In other words, the parasite TM7x might be impairing the health and functionality of XH001, which is the real culprit in gum disease.

If we could learn to exploit this parasitic nature of TM7x, we might find a new natural gum disease treatment.

Until that day, though, there are still many effective ways to prevent and treat gum disease. If you are looking to protect yourself, we recommend good oral hygiene at home and regular checkups and cleanings every six months. If you are looking for a dentist in Rockland County, please call 845-627-7645 for an appointment at B & D Dental Excellence in West Nyack.