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The Role Of Spirochetes In Periodontal Disease

W.J. Loesche

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The spirochetal accumulation in subgingival plaque appears to be a function of the clinical severity of periodontal disease. It is not known how many different spirochetal species colonize the plaque, but based upon size alone, there are small, intermediate-sized, and large spirochetes. Four species of small spirochetes are cultivable, and of these, T. denticola has been shown to possess proteolytic and keratinolytic enzymes as well as factors or mechanisms which suppress lymphocyte blastogenesis and inhibit fibroblast and polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMNL) function. All of these attributes could contribute to periodontal tissue insult. Yet independent of these potential virulence mechanisms, the overgrowth of spirochetes can be clinically useful if simply interpreted as indicating the result of tissue damage. In this case, the spirochetes would be indicators of disease and could be easily monitored by microscopic examination of plaque, or possibly by the measurement of benzoyl-DL-arginine-2-naphthylamide (BANA) hydrolytic activity in the plaque.