Gingivitis, a common and mild form of gum disease can progress to periodontitis, a more serious infection that damages the soft tissue of the gums and sometimes even destroys the bone supporting the teeth. An international team of researchers and clinicians has charted the microbial ecology of the mouth at all stages of this progression, in nearly 1,000 women in Malawi, a land-locked country in southeastern Africa. This work is laying a foundation of knowledge that could lead to better oral health. The research was published online on August 12, 2016 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The open-access article is titled “Distinguishing the Signals of Gingivitis and Periodontitis in Supragingival Plaque. A Cross-Sectional Cohort Study in Malawi.” The investigators used high-throughput sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) gene to take the census of the oral microbiomes. Among much else, they found that a small number of species were associated with periodontitis, but not gingivitis, including members of the genera, Prevotella, Treponema, and Selemonas. "Our findings confirm that periodontitis cannot be considered simply an advanced stage of gingivitis, even when only considering supragingival plaque," said first author Liam Shaw, a Ph.D. student at University College London, United Kingdom. Periodontitis is diagnosed by measuring the depth of the pockets in the gums next to the teeth. "But diagnosing periodontitis visually is impossible and it doesn't usually give any symptoms until it has developed so far that teeth become mobile, which is very late for any treatment," said co-author Ulla Harjunmaa, a dentist with a master's degree in International Health, who is a Ph.D.
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