It is not hard to comprehend why periodontal disease, typically caused by a bacterial infection in the mouth, damages the teeth, gums, and bone. But did you know that periodontal disease impacts not just the mouth, but also the whole body?
Oral health is closely tied to whole-body health, sometimes called “systemic” health. This is because gums are full of blood vessels that act as a gateway to the bloodstream. These blood vessels transport bacteria from the gums directly to the bloodstream in what are called “bacterial showers.” From there, the blood vessels spread that bacteria throughout the whole body. What follows are some of the ways periodontal disease causes or exacerbates bodily conditions.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Periodontal Disease
Studies, such as a study from the Arthritis Research & Therapy Journal, show that rheumatoid arthritis patients are significantly more likely to have gum disease. The severity of individuals’ periodontitis is closely associated with rheumatoid arthritis disease activity. Both conditions are characterized by an imbalance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. In other words, both conditions destroy bone. Consequently, the presence of periodontal disease may intensify the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Although scientists have yet to fully understand the link between periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis, the connection between the two is more than mere coincidence. In a study published in the Journal of Periodontology, researchers found that individuals with rheumatoid arthritis were about eight times more likely to have periodontitis.
Respiratory Disease and Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease can also worsen respiratory problems. Periodontal disease is typified by bacterial infections. Gums are bacteria receptacles, and the bacteria continuously proliferates unless fastidiously removed.
When bacteria is permitted to remain in the gums, the bacteria can travel down to the lungs and cause harm. While healthy lungs have better protective defense mechanisms, diseased lungs are not as capable of warding off bacteria that has traveled from the gums. Also, infected gums trigger a systemic immune-response which causes inflammation not only in the gums, but also in the lungs.
Heart Disease and Periodontal Disease
Gum disease begins when dental plaque accumulates around the teeth. A different type of plaque called atherosclerosis, the hallmark of heart disease, can build up around the arties. Interestingly, people with periodontal disease are two to three times more likely to suffer a cardiovascular event. Gum disease may be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Why are people with periodontal disease more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke? Periodontal disease increases inflammation in the entire body. In particular, the bacteria present in gum disease can travel throughout the body, produce inflammation in the heart vessels, and infect the heart valves. In fact, people with heart valve disease are particularly at risk when gum disease is present. This is because the oral bacteria associated with gum disease crosses into the bloodstream and can enter the heart and attack vulnerable heart valves.
Reduce the risk factors
Fortunately, gum disease is treatable. Just like people should not neglect their doctor check-ups, they should not shirk their dental or periodontal appointments either, particular since gum health correlates so strongly with whole body health. Unless you stay apprised of your periodontal health, you may not know there is a problem until serious periodontal and medical treatment is required.
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