Vaccinating against gum disease: Dr Michael Sultan


  Posted by: Dental Design      5th February 2020

According to a recent news article, a vaccination to fight against gum disease may soon be a reality, after scientists based at the University of Melbourne received a $14 million investment.[i] While a vaccine has been in the works for a long time, this is a huge step forward towards this shot reaching fruition and becoming a viable choice for people in the future.

But what would a vaccination against periodontal bacteria mean in for patients in the UK?

Despite the best efforts of dental professionals across the country, rates of gum disease remain high across the nation. Indeed, according to statistics it seems that as many as 90% of the population will have gum disease at some time.[ii] While in most cases this will be minor and easily reversible, it is still a first step towards more serious forms of the disease such as periodontitis. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any solid statistics regarding how many people in the UK suffer from periodontitis, but according to the British Society of Periodontology, around 10% of the population are susceptible to the disease, meaning millions are at constant risk.[iii]

As we all know, periodontitis remains one of the most difficult diseases to deal with in modern dentistry. Those impacted by periodontitis are likely to experience bone loss, loose teeth and possibly missing dentition as a result of bacterial build up. What’s worse is that the bacteria responsible for the development of the disease are all naturally present in the mouth, though they only become dangerous when they multiply at hugely advanced rates.

As such, we have to explore the possibility of what a vaccination would mean for people who are more susceptible to the disease. If, like other vaccinations, it offers a completely effective barrier against chronic periodontitis, it could very well transform the general standard of oral health in the modern era, and hugely benefit hundreds of thousands of people. The only thing to consider then would be the logistics of how the vaccine was delivered. Would it, like the MMR shot, be given to school-age children to protect them in the future, or would it only be offered to people who are deemed more likely to suffer from periodontitis? At the moment we’re still in the dark, and this means that we cannot predictably see how this vaccine is going to shape dental care going forwards.

How does the vaccine work?

Interestingly, the science behind this new vaccine is pretty unique. Unlike other vaccines that form a resistance by introducing a proportion of the disease into the person looking to become protected, the vaccine for periodontitis would work by targeting certain enzymes produced by Porphyromonas Gingivalis, one of the strains of bacterium responsible for periodontal diseases. This way, it would effectively neutralise the destructive power of these bacteria, preventing them from causing damage to the bone and soft tissue.

These particular bacteria have been identified as the best types to target as they are categorised as keystone pathogens. This means that they have the potential to unbalance the microorganisms in the mouth and enhance the conditions necessary for periodontal disease to take place.[iv] By neutralising the efficacy of this bacterium, we would no longer have to rely on extensive cleaning regimes and antibiotic courses to tackle periodontitis as it will be impossible for the disease to manifest, or if it does, it will be far less severe.

Will the UK accept a vaccine?

One problem standing in the way of this new vaccine is how it will be received. The word vaccine itself has become troubling for many, and the anti-vaxx movement is in full swing. This has already led to the re-emergence of diseases that had been all but wiped out, and you can guarantee that people will approach this new treatment with a heavy dose of scepticism.

This means that even if the vaccine is entirely effective, there will be those who refuse to have it or whom will prevent their children from receiving it (depending on the proposed age of the vaccine being implemented). Obviously, the result of this is that periodontitis will still remain something that dental professionals will have to battle against in the future, especially if the anti-vaxx movement continues to gain traction.

The future of care

On face value, the creation of a vaccine to ward off periodontal disease is an amazing breakthrough and likely to completely transform dental care in the future. However, until the vaccine is launched (it is estimated to become available in 2022) and we know more about who will be eligible to receive it and the general public’s response, we can’t hold it as a cure all and relegate periodontitis to a threat that can be ignored.


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[i] Anthill. University of Melbourne spin-out attracts $14m investment for vaccine to treat gum disease that affects 30% adults. Link: [Last accessed October 19].

[ii] BUPA. Gum Disease. Link: [Last accessed October 19].

[iii] British Society of Periodontology. Periodontal Disease and Treatment. Link: [Last accessed October 19].

[iv] Science Daily. World-First Therapeutic Dental Vaccine. Link: [Last accessed October 19].

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