We all are familiar with the song we learned in childhood about how all the parts of the body are connected. The familiar lyrics and melodies of the skeleton dance song, “the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone and the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone”, make us realize early on that our bodies are one complicated and interconnected system. Today, we understand that the relations of the body’s parts and systems are intimately connected, and, operating as a spectacular symphony so complex that even the most educated scientists and doctors are in awe of their wonder.
Our oral health and overall health are also intimately related and connected. For many years, research has shown that periodontal disease can adversely affect and further complicate many systemic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and has even been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes. We also know that uncontrolled systemic diseases can negatively affect the oral environment.
Millions of Americans show signs of periodontal disease, which is a chronic bacterial infection in the tissues surrounding the teeth that leads to gum inflammation and eventual bone loss. As periodontal disease progresses, bacterial enzymes break down gum tissue, and, as a result, the bacteria enters the body’s circulatory system. This oral bacteria can worsen pre-existing medical conditions and disease processes.
The relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is a great concern for patients, as medical doctors and dentists alike understand the interplay that each has with the other. In general, diabetes can lower your resistance to infection and slow the body’s healing process. Diabetes, when not controlled, has a negative effect on gum health. Patients with inadequate blood sugar control seem to develop periodontal disease more often and more severely than those who have good control of their diabetes. In addition, periodontal disease has been shown to exacerbate a patients diabetic symptoms by creating a situation in which blood glucose levels are more difficult to maintain. This can be a vicious cycle, which in turn effects every other organ that is at risk in diabetics such as the heart, eyes, skin, lungs, nerves, kidneys and so on.
In addition to affecting diabetes, oral bacteria can play a role in cardiovascular disease by causing inflammation throughout the body and in arteries. This inflammation can contribute to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque, thus increasing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can increase gum tissue inflammation. Left uncontrolled, this pregnancy induced gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, putting mothers at greater risk of having pre-term births and low birth weight babies. The theory is that toxins released by oral bacteria can reach the placenta and interfere with the development and growth of the fetus.
All evidence points to the fact that keeping our mouths as clean and as free of harmful bacteria as possible can reap huge benefits that extend far beyond our mouths. We know now that a little prevention goes a long way….not just in preventing cavities and gum issues, but by potentially avoiding much more serious health conditions in the future.
Be proactive! Always brush, floss, and make sure you are diligent about your routine dental check-ups and cleanings.
Dr. Joseph D’Angelo, DDS and Dr. Ashly Olson, DDS