Würzburg scientists detect dental infections with gum | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 15.08.2017
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Würzburg scientists detect dental infections with gum

Researchers in Würzburg have developed a chewing gum that tastes bitter in mouths with too many bacteria. That could help people who have dental implants detect infections early on.

On Tuesday, researchers in Würzburg announced a bubblegum that tastes bitter in mouths with too many bacteria. They hope it will help people who have dental implants detect infections early on.

Modern dental implants are very secure: Anchored firmly into the jawbone with dowels, they gradually grow stronger and stronger with time. Most patients will never have a problem with them.

In 1-5 percent of cases, however, complications occur. Over the years, bacteria can creep into gaps between the implant, the bone and the gums. And, once infections develop, they can be hard for patients to detect.

"The patient will not notice the infection in the mouth, because his nerves have been completely destroyed by the implant," said Lorenz Meinel, the chair of pharmaceutical technology and biopharmaceuticals at the University of Würzburg.

If infections go unnoticed for too long, they can destroy tissue and bone substance before patients can make it to doctors. Pain and swollen gums usually make such infections easier to notice for people who still have their original teeth.

'Bacterial load'

The gum contains a special substance that reacts to the protein-degrading enzymes typically associated with oral infections. The substance in the chewing gum cuts those enzymes apart, resulting in the bitter taste that lets patients know to go to the dentist to have their implants checked and any infection treated.

Meinel and his team developed the gum in cooperation with the University of Düsseldorf and research institutes in Jena and Berlin and tested it on patients at the dental clinic of Rimini in Italy. The researchers announced the gum in the journal Nature Communications.

"The chewing gum detects any kind of bacterial load in the mouth," Meinel said. It is also more reliable than the colored dental strips currently used by dentists and faster than tests with cotton swabs, which have to be sent to a lab for several days. In the case of light infections, the chewing gum will not react. 

There is one thing that chewing gum is not able to do: It can not differentiate between developing infections and healing infections. This has to do with the fact that the same biological marker is released in both cases, said Frank Schwarz the president of the German Association of Oral Implantology. Nonetheless, he considers the chewing gum an "innovative approach." It is not clear when the gum will hit the market.

fs/mkg (dpa, IDW)

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