Could healthier gums help Indigenous beat kidney disease?


The University of Adelaide’s Indigenous Oral Health Unit is leading a major study into the possibility of gum disease treatment also helping the fight against one of Indigenous Australians’ greatest health threats—chronic kidney disease.

Of the numerous health challenges faced by Indigenous Australians, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is arguably the highest mountain to climb. Its prevalence among Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults is equivalent to the poorest nations—approximately 18 per cent in total, and 34 per cent in remote communities. This makes Indigenous Australians around 10 times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to require renal replacement therapy, with dialysis their leading cause of hospitalisation.

Many factors contribute to this situation, of course. But one that particularly interests the University of Adelaide Indigenous Oral Health Unit is an apparent link between CKD and periodontal (gum) disease, which is present among Indigenous communities at similarly alarming levels.

With international studies indicating those with periodontal disease are at higher risk of developing CKD, and vice versa, researchers at the unit recently launched a significant collaborative project to test whether improving oral health might also improve kidney function.

According to Associate Professor Lisa Jamieson, Indigenous Oral Health Unit Director and lead researcher on the study, the findings could potentially inform an important new—and widely available—strategy for reducing CKD progression.

“We’re aiming to provide a series of intensive periodontal treatments to around 600 Indigenous patients in central Australia with impaired kidney function and periodontal disease, and will monitor their progress for two years,” she says.

“If we can show periodontal treatment has led to an improvement in their kidney function, that could significantly change the way oral health is viewed publicly, and may lead to changes in standard treatment regimens for dental care providers.”

The team will also be closely analysing participants’ periodontal microbiota (bacterial community), adds Associate Professor Jamieson. “We want to ascertain whether any bacteria are connected to both periodontal and kidney disease, and whether any changes in the microbiota can be correlated with improvements in these conditions following periodontal treatment.

“If we find microbes that are involved in linking periodontal disease and CKD, it may be possible to develop specific treatments to target the causative agents.”

Other contributors to the project include researchers from the: South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Menzies School of Health Research; University of Sydney; Univeristy of Queensland; NT Health; and Congress Aboriginal Health Service.

Related links: 
Professor Lisa Jamieson
Indigenous Oral Health Unit
Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH)
Adelaide Dental School