Disease of the gums and supporting tissue, known to dentists as periodontitis, is a chronic inflammatory condition that destroys gum tissue and bone if left untreated. Signs of the disease are gums that bleed easily, red instead of pink gums, swollen receding tissue and loose teeth. Periodontitis is more likely to develop in individuals who smoke, have diabetes or a family history of the condition. Having the condition puts one at greater risk of heart and artery disease as well. The condition can be treated and managed if attended in enough time.
One of the major components of the disease is inflammation, which is difficult to abolish. Because inflammatory responses are persistent, researchers looking for ways to control the disease turned to substances derived from long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) that have been shown to halt inflammation and suppress many processes leading to inflammation. These substances, resolvins, are highly potent derivatives of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) found mainly in seafood. They are highly activated in the presence of aspirin.
Investigators studying the properties of resolvins in animals with periodontal disease reported that these substances abolished inflammation and led to the restoration of healthy gum tissue and bone when applied to the gums in very small amounts. These researchers now report their findings in individuals with severe periodontitis.
The investigators used omega-3 supplements and low-dose aspirin as a source of resolvins, which are not available for study in humans. They were counting on their participants to make their own resolvins from omega-3s. Participants had untreated dental disease, but were otherwise healthy. They were instructed in good dental hygiene and given a moderately large dose of omega-3s (3 g/day) for 6 months. Another group of patients was given the same instruction and placebo capsules. At the end of the study period, all participants were evaluated for clinical and biochemical signs of the disease and inflammation.
Of the 5 measures of clinical gum disease, the investigators observed significant improvements in 2—a reduction in how far they could easily probe the gum and less gum recession. Other clinical symptoms improved during the study, but did so in both treatment and placebo groups, suggesting that all participants improved their dental hygiene. The investigators also found that the biochemical assessments of inflammation were markedly lower in the omega-3 participants, but not in the placebo group.
The study is important as the first demonstration in humans that omega-3s are linked to lower inflammation and improved clinical symptoms in patients with advanced periodontal disease. The findings imply that careful dental hygiene makes an important contribution to gum health. The study was carried out for 6 months, but did not assess the patients before that time. Thus, we do not know whether the patients’ gum disease improved sooner. The investigators did not provide data on whether resolvins were involved in the patients’ responses, but resolvin analyses are currently being conducted. These questions will likely be answered in future studies. These findings bring a smile.