It is common knowledge that poor dental habits are a major contributor to poor oral health, including bacterial gum tissue diseases like periodontal disease. To put it simply, periodontal disease is the infection of the structures surrounding the teeth caused by oral plaque forming bacteria. Although it is obvious that periodontal disease wreaks havoc on one’s oral health, many patients are unaware of the surprising ripple effect that oral problems like periodontitis can have not only on the mouth, but also on the body. There is a crucial connection between oral health and systemic (whole body) health that, unfortunately, most individuals and even some doctors are unaware. However, research has consistently and increasingly demonstrated the link between periodontal and systemic health. This connection attests to the increased need for collaboration and coordination of care between periodontal and medical professionals.
Thus far, studies have demonstrated that untreated periodontal disease gives rise to a number of potentially life threatening systemic complications. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease, which in turn may exacerbate diabetic complications and increase blood sugar. Furthermore, research demonstrates that periodontal disease places sufferers at increased risk of heart disease, possibly due to the inflammation that gum disease creates. A causative link between stroke and periodontal disease has also been indicated. There is even research demonstrating the connection between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, and kidney, pancreatic, and blood cancers.
The evidence is overwhelming in its indication of the harm that unmitigated periodontal disease exerts on the whole body. The question, then, is why this connection exists?
The mouth is the entry point of many types of bacteria, good and bad. A drop of saliva alone contains more bacteria in it than the number of people on Earth. Every time you chew, there are bacterial showers that enter into the bloodstream. Chewing on or irritating gums that are inflamed from periodontal disease causes an increases of bacteria that enter the bloodstream, making it harder for the immune cells to handle. The immune system protects the body from bacteria by causing the white blood cells to phagocytize (engulf and kill) the bacteria. When these white blood cells phagocytize the bacteria, mediators- interleukins and bradykinins, also enter the bloodstream. These mediators are the types of substances that we see in people with aneurysms, strokes, and heart diseases, because an excess of such mediators in the bloodstream potentiate the possibility of clots and stroke.
Furthermore, bacteria that enters the oral cavity may be aspirated to the lungs, causing respiratory diseases like pneumonia. Finally, prostate health may be compromised by periodontal disease. Men with indicators of periodontal disease such as red, inflamed gums have been shown to possess higher levels of prostate specific antigens, which if secreted in high amounts may may be indicative of prostatitis (inflamed prostate).
Fortunately, taking charge of your periodontal health decreases your susceptibility to further systemic complications. Collaboration between periodontal and medical professionals creates a plethora of benefits for the patient, not the least of which is the decreased risk of whole body health complications exacerbated by, or due to untreated periodontal diseases. When a patient actively seeks treatment for the infection of the teeth’s structures caused by bacteria and plaque, he or she is decreasing the risk of many other health problems, including diabetic complications, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, blood cancer, and risk of stroke.
To ask questions or to schedule an appointment with Dr Singletary, please call our office at 919-518-8222.