Everyone agrees that the ultimate goal of periodontal therapy is to cure periodontitis. But what does a ‘cure’ mean? The dictionary defines a cure as “the act of relieving someone of the symptoms of a disease or condition.” How would a cure relate to periodontitis?
Well, periodontitis affects 47 percent of the US population over the age of 30 and is a destructive disease. The condition often results in a loss of bone and soft tissue attachment from around the teeth. Periodontitis also causes loose teeth, bad breath, and eventually tooth loss.
Our current therapies are aimed at stopping the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, efforts to find a true cure for periodontitis have thus far proven elusive. Since periodontitis results in the loss of bone and soft tissue attachment, a ‘cure’ would mean a reversal of those symptoms. In other words, the gums and bone would have to be brought back to healthy levels. The lost tissue would have to be regenerated.
The reversal of this kind of destructive process is sometimes possible to a limited degree in periodontics. Bone materials, soft tissue materials, and biological products have been approved for use during surgical procedures. These materials aid in ‘re-growing’ lost soft tissue and bone. However, these procedures are limited because not all patients have the right kind of bone loss and soft tissue loss that is conducive to regeneration. Additionally, individual patient responses are variable, meaning that not everyone responds the same way to the same treatments.
Another thing to remember is that these procedures are costly, and involve adding materials into the body during surgery. The materials most frequently used are derived from human donor tissue banks – yes from cadavers. Rest assured that the use of human donor material in dentistry and medicine is highly regulated and extremely safe. Still, some patients would object to having materials, from someone else, surgically implanted around their teeth – even for a good and worthwhile reason.
When one doesn’t desire a human donor material, other regenerative materials can be used. These are derived from bovine (cows) or porcine (pigs) bone and collagen materials. The methods used to extract bone and collagen from animal materials are also highly regulated and safe. Animals offer the advantage of practically unlimited supplies of donors. These materials are much easier to come than human material.
Still, some patients may also object to the use of animal materials in their bodies. Other types of regenerative materials derive from the properties of certain proteins called ‘growth factors’ as we’ll see in our next newsletter.