One of the most commonly asked questions is about the possible link between gum disease or periodontal disease and other medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Preliminary research indicates that, yes, in fact there is a connection. Further research needs to be done to determine precisely why, but the early results give us reason to take care of our mouths.
This isn’t to say that periodontal disease “causes” these conditions, but it can affect the severity of the symptoms associated with these conditions.
Gum disease if left untreated can worsen until hard and soft tissue (bone and gums) start to deteriorate. When this happens without preventative or interceptive treatment, tooth loss can result. For those who suffer from or have a family history of osteoporosis, gum disease only makes a complicated situation worse because treatment will not only have to be directed at the systemic deterioration of osteoporosis, but also of periodontal disease.
Many patients may not even be aware they have gum disease, which is why it is so important to maintain good oral hygiene, including regular dental check-ups whether or not they actually feel like something’s wrong.
Since women in their menopausal years are most prone to osteoporosis, it is important for that segment of the population to remain vigilant about their oral health.
Heart Disease & Stroke
People with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is the thickening of the walls of the coronary arteries - the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the heart. This thickening happens because of plaque build up usually comprised of fatty proteins. While the exact reason for the correlation between periodontal disease and heart disease is yet to be determined, scientists theorize that oral bacteria enters the blood stream and is carried along by the fatty proteins. The body’s natural reaction to bacteria is to fight the infection with white blood cells further decreasing the space inside the artery.
Again, more research is being done to find more definitive answers.
No, pregnancy is not a disease. But, it is a medical condition that can be affected by the presence of periodontal bacteria. Studies have shown that pregnant women who have periodontal disease are seven times more likely to give birth prematurely to underweight babies.
Scientists surmise that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Expectant mothers should make regular visits to their dentist and follow-up with a periodontist (gum disease specialist) if it is deemed necessary by the family dentist.
Diabetics are more likely to develop periodontal disease, which can in turn increase blood sugar and the potential for other diabetic complications. Periodontal disease is often referred to as the sixth complication of diabetes.
A 1997 study published in the Journal of Periodontology followed Pima Indians who had both diabetes and periodontal disease. The study found that when the periodontal infections were treated, the Indians’ diabetes became much easier to manage.
For those with asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, COPD and other breathing issues, it is very important that periodontal disease is addressed and monitored. Scientists believe that the bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled and, once in the lungs, can encourage the onset or increase the severity of symptoms.
A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that men with periodontal disease had a 63% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer – a particularly difficult type of cancer to treat. The researchers postulate two reasons for that finding:
1) Inflammation from periodontal bacteria increases the protein cells that may contribute to the development of cancer cells;
2) Those with periodontal disease have higher levels of oral bacteria and nitrosamines, which are carcinogens, in their mouth.
In all the cases of potential linkages between gum disease and other health conditions, more research is required. In the meantime, we can’t afford to sit back and ignore the symptoms. As with most health conditions, recovery is best possible if the condition is caught early and treatment started as soon as possible.
Discuss any symptoms – redness or tenderness of gums, bleeding of gums after flossing or chewing hard foods, roots starting to appear where there used to be gum tissue – with your dentist so they can initiate treatment right away. Many perio treatment plans include simple non-invasive procedures such as flossing more regularly and using antibacterial rinses.
But, as always, the best treatment is prevention. Maintaining good oral cleansing habits in the first place means much less of a chance for something to require more extensive (and expensive) treatment later.
Sources: www.perio.org; www.sciencedaily.com