Background: Inflamed periodontal tissues exhibit widened intracellular epithelial spaces,
increased vascularity and leukocytes when compared to healthy gingiva. This study was intended
to describe nerve fiber patterns at periodontitis and control papillae.
Methods: Ten adults with moderate/severe periodontitis were enrolled. Gingival index (GI),
probing depth (PD) and clinical attachment loss (CAL) were measured at periodontitis (test) and
healthy (control) sites. Buccal interdental papilla from these same sites were biopsied, placed in
Zamboni's fixative, sectioned at 60μm, immunostained with antibody to PGP 9.5 and with
fluorescent secondary antibodies to visualize nerve fibers for quantification by confocal
microscopy. Cumulative prevalence of nerve fibers was compared between periodontitis and
Results: Mean age of the sample was 53.8 years. All five females and two of the five males
smoked cigarettes. Mean PD and CAL were significantly greater for periodontitis sites than
control sites (4.3 vs 2.3 and 4.2 vs 1.2 respectively, p <0.0001). Nerve fibers were seen in
junctional, sulcular and col epithelium in 18%, 58% and 74% of the periodontitis sites and 0%,
64% and 52% of the control sites, respectively. Cumulative percentage of intraepithelial nerve
fibers at periodontitis was 51% vs control sites 44%.
Conclusions: Nerve fibers penetrated to the stratum granulosum of gingival epithelium. Nerve fibers were more frequently in sulcular and col epithelium than junctional epithelium and tend to be more frequent and extensive at periodontitis than control sites. Further research is needed to determine if variations in intraepithelial nerve patterns are associated with inflammation and periodontitis.