Trichomonas tenax, or oral trichomonas, is a species of trichomonas commonly found in the oral cavity of humans, dogs and cats. Routine hygiene is generally not sufficient to eliminate the parasite, hence its Latin name, meaning "tenacious". The parasite is frequently located in periodontal infections, affecting more than 50% of the population in some areas, but [clarify]. Trichomonas tenax is generally not found on the gums of healthy patients. It is known to play a pathonogenic role in necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis and necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis, worsening preexisting periodontal disease. This parasite is also implicated in some chronic lung diseases; in such cases, removal of the parasite is sufficient to allow recovery (Mussaev 1976).
During the early 1900's, prisoners at the San Quentin prison in California were subject to advanced periodontal disease at a rate of almost 90%, owing at least in part to a high rate of infection by T. tenax. In the Journal of the American Dental Association, it was speculated that this high rate of transmission was attributable to the crowding and poor diets faced by inmates. Age is also an important factor (Kofoid and al.1929) and intense inflammation is characteristic.
Of the three parasites in the genus Trichomonas, T. tenax is the smallest, measuring only 12-20 µm long and 5-6 µm wide; specimens can be identified by their long axostyles and tails, 4 anterior flagella, and by the recurrent flagellum that raises an undulating membrane which is two thirds the length of the body. It may occasionally appear larger, allowing it to be confused with trichomonas vaginalis. In such cases, the presence of an oral or vaginal parasite should be confirmed, due to the ease with which the parasite can be transmitted through direct contact of mucous membranes.
Of very agile appearance, it's undulating membrane may appear like small legs.
In infected hosts, the parasite can typically be found among dental calculus, as well as within the tonsillar crypts, which will often become purulent during the course of infection. T. tenax may also be involved in the degradation of periodontal tissue through the secretion of substances such as alkaline phosphatases and the fibronectin cathepsine. Trichomonas tenax is classified as a parasite due to the manner in which it causes damage to host tissues; it's behavior when i ncontact with target cells is similar to the closely related and likewise parasitic Trichomonas vaginalis. It has no cysts and is transmitted directly from it's vegetative form.
Trichomonas tenax can easily be detected through the use of phase contrast microscopy. Biofilm harvested from infested areas of the periodontal pockets can be mounted onto a slide; T. tenax, if present, will be clearly visible. The preparation must use the patient's saliva as the medium, as the use of running water or saline could cause warping.
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