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Research Shows Nicotine Residue Can Be Extracted From Dental Plaque On Ancient Tobacco Users Teeth

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A team of scientists including researchers from Washington State University has shown for the first time that nicotine residue can be extracted from plaque, also known as “dental calculus”, on the teeth of ancient tobacco users.

Their research provides a new method for determining who was consuming tobacco in the ancient world and could help trace the use of tobacco and other intoxicating plants further back into prehistory.

“The ability to identify nicotine and other plant-based drugs in ancient dental plaque could help us answer longstanding questions about the consumption of intoxicants by ancient humans,” said Shannon Tushingham, a WSU assistant professor of anthropology and co-author of a new study on the research in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

“For example, it could help us determine whether all members of society used tobacco, or only adults, or only males or females.”

A new source of information

Tracing the ancient spread of tobacco in the Americas has traditionally relied on the presence of pipes, charred tobacco seeds and the analysis of hair and fecal matter. However, these items are rare in the archaeological record and are hard to link to particular individuals. As a result, tobacco use has been difficult to document archaeologically.

On the other hand, dental plaque adheres to the surfaces of teeth and mineralizes over time, preserving a wide range of substances that are in the mouth. It is easy to link to particular individuals because it can be removed directly from teeth.

Nevertheless, dental plaque was largely ignored by archaeologists until recently.

However, using modern and highly sensitive instrumentation, scientists have found they can detect and characterize trace amounts of a wide variety of compounds, including proteins, bacterial DNA, starch grains and other plant fibers in dental plaque.

Because nicotine is detectable in the dental plaque of contemporary smokers Tushingham and her collaborators wanted to find out if it also preserved in plaque taken from people who lived long ago.

She and David Gang, a professor in the WSU Institute of Biological Chemistry, Korey Brownstein, a graduate student in the WSU Molecular Plant Sciences Program, and Jelmer Eerkens, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, collaborated with members from the Ohlone tribe in San Francisco Bay to extract plaque from the teeth of eight individuals, buried between 6,000 and 300 years ago, and analyze it for nicotine.

Using ordinary dental picks, Eerkens and his team at UC Davis extracted the dental plaque from the ancient teeth and then sent it to Tushingham and Gang’s labs at WSU for analysis. The WSU researchers used liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to test the samples for nicotine and other plant-based drugs like caffeine and atropine, a muscle-relaxant.

Among the samples they analyzed, two tested positive for nicotine, demonstrating for the first time that the drug can survive in detectable amounts in ancient plaque. One of these individuals, an adult man, was also buried with a pipe. A surprise came from the molar of an older woman, which also tested positive for nicotine.

“While we can’t make any broad conclusions with this single case, her age, sex, and use of tobacco is intriguing,” Eerkens said.

“She was probably past child-bearing age, and likely a grandmother. This supports recent research suggesting that younger adult women in traditional societies avoid plant toxins like nicotine to protect infants from harmful biochemicals, but that older women can consume these intoxicants as needed or desired.”

While the researchers did not detect evidence of any other plant-based drugs in this particular study, they believe dental plaque could be used help trace the use and spread of other intoxicants as well.

“We think a wide variety of plant-based, intoxicating chemicals could be detected in ancient dental plaque,” Brownstein said. “It really opens up a lot of interesting avenues of discovery.”

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Can These Proteins Cure Cavities?

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Researchers at the University of Washington have designed a convenient and natural product that uses proteins to rebuild tooth enamel and treat dental cavities.

The research finding was first published in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

“Remineralization guided by peptides is a healthy alternative to current dental health care,” said lead author Mehmet Sarikaya, professor of materials science and engineering and adjunct professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Oral Health Sciences.

The new biogenic dental products can — in theory — rebuild teeth and cure cavities without today’s costly and uncomfortable treatments.

“Peptide-enabled formulations will be simple and would be implemented in over-the-counter or clinical products,” Sarikaya said.

Cavities are more than just a nuisance. According to the World Health Organization, dental cavities affect nearly every age group and they are accompanied by serious health concerns. Additionally, direct and indirect costs of treating dental cavities and related diseases have been a huge economic burden for individuals and health care systems.

“Bacteria metabolize sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates in oral environments and acid, as a by-product, will demineralize the dental enamel,” said co-author Sami Dogan, associate professor in the Department of Restorative Dentistry at the UW School of Dentistry.

Although tooth decay is relatively harmless in its earliest stages, once the cavity progresses through the tooth’s enamel, serious health concerns arise. If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to tooth loss. This can present adverse consequences on the remaining teeth and supporting tissues and on the patient’s general health, including life-threatening conditions.

Good oral hygiene is the best prevention, and over the past half-century, brushing and flossing have reduced significantly the impact of cavities for many Americans. Still, some socio-economic groups suffer disproportionately from this disease, the researchers said. And, according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of dental cavities in Americans is again on the rise, suggesting a regression in the progress of combating this disease.

Taking inspiration from the body’s own natural tooth-forming proteins, the UW team has come up with a way to repair the tooth enamel. The researchers accomplished this by capturing the essence of amelogenin — a protein crucial to forming the hard crown enamel — to design amelogenin-derived peptides that biomineralize and are the key active ingredient in the new technology. The bioinspired repair process restores the mineral structure found in native tooth enamel.

“These peptides are proven to bind onto tooth surfaces and recruit calcium and phosphate ions,” said Deniz Yucesoy, a co-author and a doctoral student at the UW.

The peptide-enabled technology allows the deposition of 10 to 50 micrometers of new enamel on the teeth after each use. Once fully developed, the technology can be used in both private and public health settings, in biomimetic toothpaste, gels, solutions and composites as a safe alternative to existing dental procedures and treatments. The technology enables people to rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel on a daily basis as part of a preventive dental care routine. It is expected to be safe for use by adults and children.

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Is the Sweet Tooth Gene Connected With Having Less Body Fat?

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People with a gene variation of FGF21 have a predisposition to less body fat than others, new research conducted at the University of Copenhagen, among others, shows.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to the researchers, who last year discovered that precisely this genetic variation could be one of the reasons why some people have a particular craving for sweet things. People with this variation eat more sugar than others.

‘It sort of contradicts common intuition that people who eat more sugar should have less body fat. But it is important to remember that we are only studying this specific genetic variation and trying to find connections to the rest of the body. This is just a small piece of the puzzle describing the connection between diet and sugar intake and the risk of obesity and diabetes’, says one of the researchers behind the study, Associate Professor Niels Grarup from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research.

Higher Blood Pressure and More ‘Apple Shape’

But the effects associated with the genetic variation are not all positive, the new study shows. The genetic variation is connected with slightly increased blood pressure and more fat around the waist than the hips — that is, more ‘apple shape’.

The study is an international collaboration headed by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and has just been published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

The researchers’ conclusions are based on large amounts of data. They have studied health information from more than 450,000 individuals who have allowed their data to be recorded in the UK Biobank. It includes blood samples, questionnaires on diet and genetic data, among other things.

‘Now that so many people are involved in the study, it gives our conclusions a certain robustness. Even though the difference in the amount of body fat or blood pressure level is only minor depending on whether or not the person has this genetic variation or not, we are very confident that the results are accurate. Around 20 per cent of the European population has this genetic predisposition’, says Niels Grarup.

Potential Drug Target

This new knowledge about people with a ‘genetic sweet tooth’ is mainly important in connection with the development of drugs and future research. Because researchers are currently trying to determine whether it is possible to target or replace FGF21 using drugs in order to treat for obesity and diabetes.

‘Due to its connection with sugar, FGF21 constitutes a potential target in the treatment of for example obesity and diabetes. This research helps us to understand the underlying mechanisms of the hormone and to predict its effects and side effects’, says Niels Grarup.

The study is funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Novo Nordisk Foundation, among others.

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Losing Teeth During Middle Age Linked To An Increased Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

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Losing two or more teeth in middle age is associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2018, a premier global exchange of the latest advances in population-based cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

Studies have shown that dental health problems, such as periodontal disease and tooth loss, are related to inflammation, diabetes, smoking and consuming less healthy diets, according to study author Lu Qi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“Previous research has also found that dental health issues are associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular disease,” Qi said.

“However, most of that research looked at cumulative tooth loss over a lifetime, which often includes teeth lost in childhood due to cavities, trauma and orthodontics. Tooth loss in middle age is more likely related to inflammation, but it hasn’t been clear how this later-in-life tooth loss might influence cardiovascular disease risk.”

In a collaborative research effort between Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Qi and colleagues analyzed the impact of tooth loss in large studies of adults, aged 45 to 69 years, in which participants had reported on the numbers of natural teeth they had, then in a follow-up questionnaire, reported recent tooth loss. Adults in this analysis didn’t have cardiovascular disease when the studies began. The researchers prospectively studied the occurrence of tooth loss during an eight-year period and followed an incidence of cardiovascular disease among people with no tooth loss, one tooth lost and two or more teeth lost over 12-18 years.

They found:

  • Among the adults with 25 to 32 natural teeth at the study’s start, those who lost two or more teeth had a 23 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those with no tooth loss.
  • The increased risk occurred regardless of reported diet quality, physical activity, body weight and other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • There wasn’t a notable increase in cardiovascular disease risk among those who reported losing one tooth during the study period.
  • Cardiovascular disease risk among all the participants (regardless of the number of natural teeth at the study’s start) increased 16 percent among those losing two or more teeth during the study period, compared to those who didn’t lose any teeth.
  • Adults with less than 17 natural teeth, versus 25 to 32, at the study’s start, were 25 percent more likely to have cardiovascular disease.

“In addition to other established associations between dental health and risk of disease, our findings suggest that middle-aged adults who have lost two or more teeth in recent past could be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” Qi said.

“That’s regardless of the number of natural teeth a person has as a middle-aged adult, or whether they have traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as poor diet or high blood pressure.”

Armed with the knowledge that tooth loss in middle age can signal elevated cardiovascular disease risk, adults can take steps to reduce the increased risk early on, he said.

A limitation of the study was that participants self-reported tooth loss, which could lead to misclassification in the study, according to Qi.

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