Clare McIlwaine

A research study at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry which aims to develop a simple saliva test for gum disease (periodontitis), has received a grant award from the Oral and Dental Research Trust.

Periodontitis is a common inflammatory oral disease that affects the supporting structures of the teeth (gums and bone). It is also linked to other diseases such as diabetes and artherosclerosis (thickening of the artery walls), making it a significant problem in dental patient care.

It is an irreversible condition and a common cause of tooth loss with 30 per cent of the UK population suffering from the disease, 10 per cent severely. Those with periodontitis often have poorer physical, psychological and social quality of life measures compared to healthy individuals. It is also linked to conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.

During the disease process the bone and soft tissue that hold teeth in place are destroyed – teeth become loose and eventually fall out. As well as being unpleasant for the patient, periodontitis is time consuming and expensive to treat. As a result, it is crucial that a way is found to prevent the disease, assess its risks and ensure early detection.

At present diagnosis relies on a visual assessment and radiography. These methods can only detect what damage the disease has caused – they cannot be used to assess the current status of the disease or predict the risk of future disease.

As a consequence, the Plymouth research team are developing a rapid and reliable saliva test which in time may be made available to large numbers of people as an over-the-counter product, for routine use by the general public. This current funding will help the team to identify specific biomarkers for periodontitis which would form the basis of a chair-side test in the dental surgery or something people could purchase over the counter at a pharmacy.

Clare McIlwaine, Lecturer in Oral Health Sciences at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry, has been awarded funding for this research. She said: 

“This grant award and research is linked to a study led by my colleague Dr Svetislav Zaric, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at Plymouth University Peninsula School of Dentistry. The news of this grant award comes after we achieved full recruitment to our clinical trial and will allow us to evaluate our laboratory results and continue working on the development of salivary biomarkers for periodontal diseases – with a view to developing a reliable saliva test.”
She added: 

“At present the diagnostic tools available for periodontitis are very limited and cannot predict future damage caused by the disease. Not only will our saliva test achieve this but, because it is fast, reliable, safe and relatively cheap, it could be used without prescription by members of the public over the counter. We are really grateful to the Oral and Dental Research Trust for its support.”