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Inflamation May Actually Fight Gum Disease

Fat component offers some protection against infection

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 1, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Periodontists commonly warn that inflammation in the gums is an unwanted sign of periodontal disease. But new research indicates that a bioactive fat that contributes to chronic gum inflammation may in fact help some people fight infection.

The fat, called platelet-activating factor (PAF) accumulates in the gums of people with chronic gum disease. Since untreated gum disease is linked not only to tooth loss, but also more severe problems including heart disease and stroke, experts try to fight periodontal disease inflammation with everything from antibiotics to surgery.

In studying people under 35 with aggressive gum disease, researchers with Virginia Commonwealth University found that those with gum disease had sharply lower levels of an enzyme called platelet-activating factor acetylhydrolase (PAF-AH), which breaks down PAF and limits gum inflammation.

But in the study, appearing in today's issue of the Journal of Immunology, the researchers say that PAF, in fact, promotes the production of high levels of antibodies that help in fighting gum disease and can battle the infections that are linked to the presence of periodontal bacteria in the blood stream, such as heart disease.

The researchers call the findings a "piece of the puzzle" in the complex immune responses triggered by gum disease. They say efforts to eliminate inflammation entirely may need to be reconsidered in light of the potential protection that's offered by PAF.

More information

Visit the American Academy of Periodontology for more information on gum disease.

SOURCE: Virginia Commonwealth University, news release, Dec. 20, 2002
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