Gum-disease vaccine could make flossing a thing of the past

Flossing our teeth is part of our daily routine—or at least it should be—but no one would call it a pleasant experience. Today flossing is the only proven way to prevent gum disease (periodontitis), but someday a shot in the arm may replace this task.

Dental researchers at the UW reported in March that an experimental vaccine protects monkeys from gum disease. “We were able to demonstrate, for the first time, that a vaccine can slow down or stop bone loss caused by infectious periodontal disease” in monkeys, says UW Oral Biology Research Center Director Roy Page.

The culprits behind gum disease are bacteria nestled deep in the gum tissue at the base of the tooth. The bacteria—P. gingivalis and other strains—increase and multiply, triggering inflammation and eventual loss of tooth-supporting bone.

While the vaccine in Page’s experiment did not suppress P. gingivalis, vaccinated monkeys had half the bone loss of animals in the control group.

Page says further work needs to be done to understand how the vaccine provides protection. But since his experiment used primates, “we know that it is reasonable to expect a similar vaccine to work in humans,” he explains. But don’t count on living floss-free yet. Page says any vaccine for humans will take “at least a decade.”