The Mouth-Body Connection
Research has proven there is a strong connection between periodontal disease and other chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and preterm infants.
Periodontal disease is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue, presence of disease-causing bacteria, and infection below the gum line. Bacteria in the mouth, and the toxins they produce, can spread throughout the body. Often it is the body’s response to these specific bacteria and toxins that increases the risk for certain health conditions. Therefore, maintaining excellent oral hygiene and reducing the progression of periodontal disease through treatment will have benefits beyond preventing gum disease and bone loss. It can also save you from the chance of developing another serious condition.
Periodontal Disease & Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious, incurable disease that is characterized by too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Diabetes affects between 12 and 14 million Americans, and can lead to a variety of health issues, such as heart disease and stroke. Research has shown people with diabetes are more likely to develop periodontal disease than non-diabetics. Diabetics with insufficient blood sugar control also develop periodontal disease more frequently and severely than those who have good management over their diabetes.
The connection between diabetes and periodontal disease results from a variety of factors. Diabetes sufferers are more susceptible to all types of infections, including periodontal infections, due to the fact diabetes slows circulation, allowing bacteria to colonize. Diabetes also reduces the body’s overall resistance to infection, which increases the probability of the gums becoming infected. Further, high glucose levels in saliva promote growth of gum disease-causing bacteria.
Recent research has shown that the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease may go both ways. The presence of periodontal disease can make it more difficult to control blood sugar, leading to elevated sugar levels in the body and increasing the amount of time the body has to function with high blood sugar. Diabetics with periodontitis are most likely to suffer from increased levels, making it difficult to keep control of their blood sugar. Treatment of periodontal disease may enhance blood sugar control and assist in easier management of diabetes.
Periodontal Disease, Heart Disease & Stroke
Patients with periodontal disease may also be at risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and strokes. We have known for a long time that bacteria can affect the heart, but recent evidence is mounting that suggests people with periodontal disease, a bacterial infection, may have twice the risk for developing cardiovascular disease than people without periodontal disease.
One of the causes of the connection between periodontal disease and heart disease is oral bacteria entering the bloodstream. There are many strands of periodontal bacteria. Some strands enter the bloodstream and attach to the fatty plaques in the coronary (heart) arteries. This attachment leads to clot formation and obstructed blood flow, restricting the amount of nutrients and oxygen the heart needs to function properly. This may lead to heart attacks.
Another cause is the inflammation associated with periodontal disease. Inflammation caused by periodontal disease creates an increase in certain immune cells and immune-regulating proteins. When levels are increased in the body, this amplifies the body’s natural inflammatory response. Bacteria from periodontal disease may enter the bloodstream, causing the liver production of extra immune-regulating proteins that lead to increased inflammation. Inflamed arteries can lead to blockage, which can cause heart attacks or strokes.
Women & Periodontal Health
Periodontal Disease & Pregnancy
Pregnant women with periodontal disease may expose their unborn children to a variety of risks and possible complications. Pregnancy causes many hormonal changes in women, which increase the likelihood of developing periodontal disease such as gingivitis, or gum inflammation. These oral problems have been linked to low birth weight of the baby, as well as premature birth. Fortunately, halting the progression of periodontal disease through practicing high standards of oral hygiene and treating existing problems may help reduce the risk of periodontal disease-related complications by up to 50%.
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, be sure to include a periodontal examination as part of your prenatal care. Our doctors and staff can help assess your level of oral health and develop preventative measures and treatment plans to best protect you and your baby.
Even without the presence of periodontal disease your gums and teeth are also affected during pregnancy. Between the second and eighth month, gums may also swell, bleed, and become red or tender. Large lumps may appear as a reaction to local irritants. However, these growths are generally painless and not cancerous. They may require professional removal, but usually disappear sometime after delivery.
Throughout a woman’s life, hormonal changes affect tissue throughout the body. Fluctuations in hormonal levels occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. At these times, the chance of periodontal disease may increase, requiring special care of your oral region.
During puberty, there is increased production of sex hormones. These higher hormone levels increase gum sensitivity and lead to greater irritation from plaque and food particles. The gums can become swollen, turn red, and feel tender.
Similar symptoms occasionally appear several days before menstruation. Bleeding of the gums, bright red swelling between the teeth and gum, or sores on the inside of the cheek may occur. These symptoms generally clear up once the period has started.
Swelling, bleeding, and tenderness of the gums may also occur when you are taking oral contraceptives, which are synthetic hormones.
You should always mention any prescriptions you are taking, including oral contraceptives, prior to medical or dental treatment. This will help eliminate the risk of drug interactions, such as antibiotics with oral contraceptives, which lessens the effectiveness of the contraceptive.
Changes in the look and feel of your mouth may occur if you are menopausal or post-menopausal. They include: feeling pain and burning in your gum tissue and salty, peppery, sour tastes, and dry mouth. Careful oral hygiene at home and professional cleaning may relieve these symptoms. There are also saliva substitutes to treat the effects of dry mouth.
To assess your risk for Periodontal Disease, please refer to the Risk Assessment Test from the American Academy of Periodontology.