By P., Piero D.D.S.
Over the last ten years there has been a growing body of evidence linking periodontal disease and systemic diseases. Every day new research is making the link stronger. Periodontal infection is the advanced stages of gum disease that causes bone loss.
The bone loss is irreversible. Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease and with early detection, treatment and proper oral hygiene can be reversed. Periodontal infection has been associated with other systemic disorders that would not on the surface appear related.
Periodontal disease is a potential risk factor for:
- infective endocarditis (damaged heart valves)
- cardiovascular diseases (arteriosclerosis, coronary thrombosis ischemic heart disease, stroke)
- respiratory problems
- pancreatic cancer
- behavioral and psychosocial status
Not only is there an indirect link between periodontal infections and systemic disorders, but periodontal disease is infectious or communicable and can be passed between family members.
It makes sense that infection in the mouth can find its way to other parts of the body. Initially it was thought that the bacteria in the mouth that cause periodontal disease were directly infecting different sites in the body, like the heart or lungs or artificial implants. This is true. However, there is more to it than that.
The body recognizes the bacteria in the mouth as a chronic infection and uses its defense mechanism to fight it. The body calls upon itself to manufacture blood constituents, such as neutrophils, eosinophils, and mast cells, to physically fight the infection. This process occurs with all infections. The problem is that as an infection becomes chronic, the body continues to manufacture these blood constituents, and release a pseudo hormone called c-reactive protein. It is this protein that inflames the internal walls of the arteries and compromises blood flow in areas that may have a predisposition.
The Research, Science and Therapy Committee of The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) 1998 reviewed numerous studies and found periodontal disease and gingivitis as potential contributing factors for infective endocarditis (damaged heart valves), cardiovascular diseases (atherosclerosis, coronary thrombosis, ischemic heart disease, stroke), diabetes, respiratory disease, and behavioral and psychosocial status. Patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5 – 2.0 times greater risk of incurring a fatal cardiovascular disease. “Importantly, dental infections appear to increase the risk of coronary artery disease to a degree similar to the classical risk factors for cardiovascular disease including age, smoking, diabetes, hypertension and elevated serum triglycerides.”
Diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections, which is the likely reason they are more apt to have periodontal disease than those without diabetes. In fact, the AAP considers periodontal disease the sixth complication of diabetes and states that controlling this gum disease may help you control your diabetes.
Some 16 million Americans suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. F. Scannapieco, D.M.D., lead researcher of a study published in January 2001 Journal of Periodontology, found that patients with periodontal disease have a 1.5 times greater risk of COPD. (http://www.joponline.org/doi/abs/10.1902/jop.2001.72.1.50?prevSearch=allfield%3A%28copd+periodontal+disease%29&searchHistoryKey=)
This means that if you have diabetes, heart disease, potential for strokes, COPD, pancreatic disease, kidney disease you have poor circulation to these sites. The periodontal disease can push this problem into a more severe and even life threatening situation. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) (http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/) states, “Gum disease is a threat to your oral health. Research is also pointing to possible health effects of periodontal diseases that go well beyond your mouth.” If you are interested in longevity, keep your teeth impeccably clean.
Dr. Piero, a practicing dentist for over twenty five years, is the inventor of Dental Air Force® (www.dentalairforce.com). Articles published are on periodontal health related to heart disease, respiratory health, diabetes, strokes, and other systemic diseases. He is the Executive Editor for Journal of Experimental Dental Science, a contributing author to Hospital Infection Control: Clinical Guidelines and soon-to-be published book, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.