Stripping some mouth bacteria of their access key to other pathogenic oral bacteria could help prevent gum disease and tooth loss.
The study, published in the journal Microbiology suggests this bacterial access key could be a drug target for people who are at high risk of developing gum disease.
Oral bacteria called Treponema denticola frequently gang up in communities with other pathogenic oral bacteria to produce destructive dental plaque.
This plaque, made up of bacteria, saliva and food debris, is a major cause of bleeding gums and gum disease which can lead to periodontitis and loss of teeth.
It is this interaction between different oral pathogens that is thought to be crucial to the development of periodontal disease.
Researchers from the University of Bristol have discovered that a molecule on the surface of Treponema called CTLP acts as the key pass that grants the bacterium access to the community, by allowing it to latch onto other oral bacteria.
Once incorporated, CTLP in conjunction with other bacterial molecules can start to wreak havoc by inhibiting blood clotting (leading to continued bleeding of the gums) and causing tissue destruction.
Professor Howard Jenkinson, who led the study, said that periodontal disease and bleeding gums are common ailments, affecting many groups of people, including the elderly, pregnant women and diabetics.
‘Devising new means to control these infections requires deeper understanding of the microbes involved, their interactions, and how they are able to become incorporated into dental plaque,’ he said.