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POOR ORAL CARE AND YOUR OVERALL HEALTH

We in the dental field know that poor dental care can lead to cavities but how often do we think about other more serious health problems that can result from poor oral hygiene. 

  • Endocarditis.  Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium).  Endocarditis typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart.
  • Cardiovascular disease.  Research suggests that inflammation of the gums and periodontal disease can enter your bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart and cause atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).  Atherosclerosis causes plaque to develop on the inner walls of arteries which thicken and this decreases or may block blood flow through the body, raising blood pressure.  There is also a risk that fatty plaque will break off the wall of a blood vessel and travel to the heart or the brain.  This can cause an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
  • Dementia.  The bacteria from gingivitis may enter the brain through either nerve channels in the head or through the bloodstream, that might lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease. 
  • Respiratory infections.  The Journal of Periodontology warns that gum disease could cause one to get infections in their lungs, including pneumonia. While the connection might not be completely obvious at first, think of what might happen from breathing in bacteria from infected teeth and gums over a long period of time.
  • Diabetic complications.  Inflammation that starts in the mouth seems to weaken the body's ability to control blood sugar.  People with diabetes have trouble processing sugar because of a lack of insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into energy.  Diabetes sufferer are also more susceptible to periodontal disease, causing the impairment of the body's ability to utilize insulin.  Thus, the making proper dental care even more important for those with this disease. 
  • Oral health and pregnancy.  Babies born too early or at a low birth weight often have significant heath problems, including lung conditions, heart conditions, and learning disorders.  While many factors can contribute to premature or low birth weight deliveries, researchers are looking at the possible role of gum disease.  Bacteria that causes dental caries can be transmitted through the bloodstream from the mouth to other parts of the body, including the placenta, and contribute to the development of serious systemic diseases.
  • Osteoporosis.  The link between periodontitis and osteoporosis is controversial however osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle.  This might be linked with periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
  • HIV/AIDS.  Oral problems, such as painful mucosal lesions, are common in people who have HIV/AIDS. 
  • Alzheimer's disease.  Tooth loss before age 35 might be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. 
  • Pancreatic cancer.  Researchers have known for years that poor oral health, including bleeding gums and lots of missing teeth, is associated with a higher risk of getting pancreatic cancer. Now they are finding that certain bacteria linked to that periodontal disease may be behind the connection.  Research recently released showed that two species of bacteria, Porphyromonas gingivalis and Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, were associated with a sharply increased risk of getting pancreatic cancer. The data showed that carrying both bacteria was linked to a 50 percent increased likelihood of contracting the cancer, said Jiyoung Ahn, associate director of population sciences at the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.
  • Other conditions.  Other conditions that might be linked to oral health include Sjorgren's syndrome - an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth and eating disorders.

Research shows that more than 90 percent of all systemic diseases have oral manifestations.  Years ago, a physician who suspected heart disease would probably not refer the patient to a dentist.  The same went for diabetes, pregnancy or just about any other medical condition.  Times have changed.  The past 5 to 10 years have seen ballooning interest in possible links between mouth health and body health. 

Resources:

  • WebMD
  • Academy of General Dentistry
  • E-newsletter
  • Colgate
  • Washington Post

Submitted by:

Linda Kihs, CDA, EFDA, OMSA, MADAA


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