According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance constitutes “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has played a large role in helping foster the development of bacterial species that have adapted to survive once-effective doses of medication. If current trends continue, we will soon be living in a post-antibacterial world.
Infections cause millions of hospital and doctor visits each and every year. Unless these conditions are life threatening or especially resistant to treatment, doctors rarely ascertain their actual cause with certainty. Instead, health care professionals focus on treating the symptoms--many times without ever even knowing if the infection is bacterial or viral in nature. Many patients are frustrated or worried to learn this; and many wonder why, when medicine has come so far, our ability to identify pathogens is apparently so limited. The answer is simple, though not exactly satisfactory: the current standard methodology for identifying pathogens is simply too costly and time-consuming to be of any practical function in most cases that are not completely dependent upon identifying the microbial cause of illness.
One of the most ambitious and potentially world-changing areas of study in human biology is the attempt to understand how the microbiome of the human digestive system influences health and wellbeing. Once thought to play only a minor role in digestion, the trillions of bacteria found in our guts are now understood to affect, aid, and regulate dozens of functions. Although most of the data coming in is very new, and although there is still much to learn, scientists have reached the point where concrete information regarding the digestive microbiome is being used to help diagnose and treat certain conditions.
Gum disease has been possibly associated with a number of serious health conditions: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and at-risk pregnancies are a few of the most noteworthy examples of this. Recent research has also examined a potential connection between bleeding gums and pancreatic cancer; and still other scientists are exploring the theory that oral bacteria could play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.