Pharmacies may soon be first to spot gum disease that could lead to heart failure

Recently I wrote about how bad teeth and gum disease can cause serious heart problems. And now along comes research from Birmingham University on a rapid test for gum disease that could help address this – and a lot more.

Gum (periodontal) disease, the leading cause of tooth loss, is caused by infection in the gums and gets more common with age.

Half of 60-year-olds will have ­periodontal disease in at least a mild form. And untreated gum disease has wide-ranging and serious effects on the rest of the body.

In type 2 diabetes it increases the risk of heart failure.

With cardiovascular disease, it worsens the risk of suffering a stroke or having heart failure.

For people with rheumatoid arthritis, it worsens flare-ups.

And in emphysema (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD), it heightens the risk of ­irreversible disease severity.

Clearly, for people who have these ­conditions, early detection and ­treatment of gum disease is a priority.

Professor Tim Albrecht, at the School of Chemistry of Birmingham University, says: “We believe the device we are prototyping will be the first dental probe that can identify ­periodontal disease in this way.

“It will detect periodontitis quickly and easily in a variety of healthcare settings, opening up opportunities for monitoring and early intervention in the patients with comorbid disease, who would benefit most from rapid treatment for periodontitis.”

While gum disease is usually spotted during a visit to a dentist, Prof Albrecht and colleague Dr Melissa Grant from the Birmingham School of Dentistry have devised the probe for identifying gum disease so it can be used in any healthcare setting, including pharmacies.

The probe analyses a sample of saliva from the mouth that gives a measurement of biomarkers that indicate both the presence of gum disease and its severity.

Dr Grant says: “The ability to detect and profiledisease biomarkers in real time will allow monitoring for disease severity, and in particular the transition between milder and more severe forms of gum disease.

“This will benefit not only dental health, but also reduce costs and capture patients for whom periodontal treatment may, in the long run, be ­life-saving.”

The team aims to have a prototype of the probe device ready in a year.