The Mouth-Body Connection

Research has recently proven what dentists have long suspected: that there is a strong connection between periodontal disease and other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Periodontal disease is characterized by inflammation of the gum tissue, presence of disease-causing bacteria, and infection below the gum line. Infections and bacteria in the mouth can spread throughout the body and lead to a host of problematic health issues. 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.

Adults past the age of 35 lose more teeth to periodontal disease than from cavities.  In fact, three out of four adults are affected at some time in their life. The best way to try to prevent cavities and periodontal disease is by good tooth brushing and flossing techniques, performed daily, and regular professional examinations and cleanings. Unfortunately, even with the most diligent home dental care, people still can develop some form of periodontal disease. Once this disease starts, professional intervention is necessary to prevent its progress.


Periodontal Disease and Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious, incurable disease that is characterized by too much glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Type II diabetes occurs when the body is unable to regulate insulin levels, meaning too much glucose stays in the blood. Type I diabetics cannot produce any insulin at all. Diabetes affects between 12 and 14 million Americans, and can lead to a variety of health issues, such as heart disease and stroke.

Individuals suffering from diabetes, especially uncontrolled diabetics, have a higher risk of developing bacterial infections of the mouth. These infections may impair your ability to process insulin, resulting in greater difficulty with controlling your diabetes. Periodontal diseases tend to be more severe and rapidly progressive in uncontrolled diabetics.

Steps to prevent periodontal disease include daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque from your teeth and gums; regular dental visits for professional cleaning and regular periodontal evaluations. Your health professional must also be told of your history and the current status of your condition. And finally, you can help resist periodontal infection by maintaining control of your blood sugar levels.


Periodontal Disease, Heart Disease and Stroke

Coronary heart disease occurs when fatty proteins and a substance called plaque build up on the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to narrow, constricting blood flow. Oxygen is restricted from traveling to the heart which results in shortness of breath, chest pain, and even heart attack.

The link between periodontal disease and heart disease is so apparent that patients with oral conditions are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease than those with healthy mouths. Periodontal disease has also been proven to exacerbate existing heart conditions. Additionally, patients with periodontal disease have been known to be more susceptible to strokes. A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is suddenly stopped. This may occur, for example, when a blood clot prevents blood from reaching the brain.

It’s possible that if you have periodontal disease, you may be at risk for cardiovascular disease. For a long time we’ve known that bacteria may affect the heart. Now evidence is mounting that suggests people with periodontal disease—a bacterial infection, may be more at risk for heart disease and have nearly twice the risk of having a fatal attack, than patients without periodontal disease.


Periodontal Disease and Women

Throughout a woman’s life, hormonal changes affect tissue throughout the body. Fluctuations in levels occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. At these times, the chance of periodontal disease may increase, requiring special care of your oral health.

 

Menstruation

Similar symptoms occasionally appear several days before menstruation. There can be bleeding of the gums, bright red swelling between the teeth and gum, or sores on the inside of the cheek. The symptoms are significantly reduced once the plaque has been removed.

 

Puberty

During puberty, there is increased production of sex hormones. These higher levels increase gum sensitivity and lead to greater irritations from plaque and food particles. The gums can become swollen, turn red and feel tender.

 
 

Pregnancy

Periodontal health should be part of your prenatal care. Any infections during pregnancy, including periodontal infections, can place a baby’s health at risk. Patients with untreated periodontal disease have a higher risk of having a preterm, low birth-weight baby. According to some estimates, periodontitis may contribute to as many as 45,000 preterm, low birth-weight babies every year. That is more than those attributed to smoking and alcohol use.

 
Babies who are born prior to the 36th week of pregnancy, and weigh less than 5lbs. 8 oz., are referred to as preterm, low birth-weight babies. Some of these babies can develop slowly and experience serious health problems. These health problems include cerebral palsy, epilepsy, chronic lung disease, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder.

The best way to prevent periodontal infections is to begin with healthy gums and continue to maintain your oral health with proper home care. You should be evaluated early on in your pregnancy for periodontal disease. There should be careful periodic monitoring with your family dentist or Drs. Hanson or Hahn.

Your gums and teeth are also affected during pregnancy. Between the second and eighth month, your gums may also swell, bleed and become red or tender. A “Pregnancy tumor” (e.g. pyogenic  granuloma) may appear as a reaction to local irritants. These growths are generally not cancerous, but they may require professional removal.

Oral Contraceptives

Swelling, bleeding and tenderness of the gums may also occur when you are taking oral contraceptives, which are synthetic hormones. You must 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.

Menopause

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 or sour tastes, and and “dry mouth”. Please be sure and mention these symptoms to Drs. Hanson or Hahn or your family dentist.

Careful oral hygiene at home and professional cleaning may relieve these symptoms. There are also saliva substitutes to treat the effects of “dry mouth”, which can occur in postmenopausal women.


Periodontal Disease and Respiratory Disease

Respiratory disease occurs when fine droplets are inhaled from the mouth and throat into the lungs. These droplets contain germs that can spread and multiply within the lungs to impair breathing. Recent research had also proven that bacteria found in the mouth and throat can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract and cause infection or worsen existing lung conditions.

Bacteria that grow in the oral cavity and travels into the lungs can cause respiratory problems such as pneumonia. This occurs mostly in patients with periodontal disease. Periodontal disease has also been proven to have a role in the contraction of bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a respiratory condition characterized by blockage of the airways, and caused mostly by smoking, has also been proven to worsen if the patient also has periodontal disease.

One of the reasons for the connection between respiratory problems and periodontal disease is low immunity. Patients who experience respiratory problems generally have low immunity, meaning bacteria can easily grow above and below the gum lines without being confronted by the body’s immune system. Once periodontal disease is contracted in this way, it will only progress and worsen respiratory issues.

Inflammation of the oral tissue has also been linked to respiratory problems. Oral bacteria causing the irritation can travel to the lungs, and contribute to the inflammation of the lung lining. This creates respiratory problems because it limits the amount of air that can be passed freely through the lungs.

If you are diagnosed with respiratory disease or periodontal disease, it is possible will work with your physician to plan how to best treat both conditions and eliminate further complications.


Periodontal Disease and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition common in older patients, and particularly women, that is characterized by the thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density over time. Osteoporosis occurs when the body fails to form enough new bone, or when the body absorbs too much old bone. The leading cause of osteoporosis is a drop in estrogen in menopausal women, or a drop in testosterone among men. Sufferers of osteoporosis must take extra care in daily activities, as they are at increased risk for bone fractures.

Because periodontal disease can also lead to bone loss, the two diseases have been studied for possible connections. Research found that women with periodontal bacteria in their mouths were more likely to have bone loss in the oral cavity and jaw, which can lead to tooth loss. Studies conducted over a period of 10 years also discovered that osteoporosis patients could significantly reduce tooth loss by controlling periodontal disease. Further, it was found that post-menopausal women who suffer from osteoporosis are 86% more likely to also develop periodontal disease.

One of the reasons for the connection between osteoporosis and periodontal disease is an estrogen deficiency. Estrogen deficiency speeds up the progression of both oral bone loss and other bone loss. It also accelerates the rate of loss of fibers and tissues which keep the teeth stable. Tooth loss occurs when these fibers are destroyed.

Low mineral bone density is one of the several causes of osteoporosis. The inflammation from periodontal disease weakens bones more prone to break down. This is why periodontitis can be particularly detrimental and progressive to patients with osteoporosis.

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, it is extremely important to take preventative measures against periodontal disease to protect your teeth and oral bones.