Karr and Blazer Dental
Elgin, IL 60120
Everyone remembers learning the song as a child teaching us how the body comes
together. “The leg bone is connected to the knee bone, etc.” Yet, you may be asking yourself, what on earth does this have to do with dentistry? It has quite a bit to do with dentistry and more specifically, gum disease. Gum disease can be linked to several other medical conditions in the body. Everything in your body is linked, but not always in ways you may imagine.
Today’s blog post will be discussing how gum disease has been labeled a risk factor for a
variety of complex medical conditions. When it comes to the body’s chemistry, there is one that typically underpins a significant majority of illnesses: inflammation. When I use the word inflammation, what is the first image that comes to mind? For me, and I assume for most others as well, we think of inflamed joints, inflamed skin, tonsils, etc. These are all aspects of acute inflammation we can feel and typically do not hesitate to address. But what about inflammation that you cannot feel? I would suggest that these chronic instances are far more concerning and troublesome.
A good place to start would be to discuss what actually constitutes “gum disease.” Many
of us have heard the term “gingivitis” and have had the wonderful pleasure of our favorite
hygienist scraping away at our teeth. But what are we actually trying to remove? If you
answered “bacteria,” then you are correct! Bacteria left settled around or beneath the gum line stimulates a localized inflammation the gum tissue. The gums get red, they become swollen, they bleed and even cause the gum and surrounding bone tissue to dissolve. Left untreated, the bacteria become more powerful and by association, so does the inflammatory response by the body. This act of inflammation involves multiple chemicals created by the body to help protect itself, but in reality, it is really a self-destructive process. These chemical mediators are able to leak into the bloodstream and cause issues anywhere and everywhere they land.
These chronic inflammatory conditions are numerous, but the most frequent links to gum
disease are diabetes and heart disease. Let’s begin our discussions with diabetes. In it’s
simplest terms, diabetes (in this case type 2 or adult onset diabetes not associated with birth), is a condition in which the body cannot respond to the hormone insulin. This results in blood sugar levels rising and causing significant inflammatory issues elsewhere in the body. The link between diabetes and gum disease is a two way street. According to the American Academy of Periodontology: “ Diabetic patients are more likely to develop periodontal disease, which in turn can increase blood sugar and diabetic complications.” Those with diabetes typically have a much greater difficulty in avoiding and recovering from infections. Gum disease is no different as bacteria infect the hard and soft tissue surrounding the teeth. This infection and subsequent gum tissue inflammation spreads throughout the body and has been suggested to play a role in blood sugar spikes. The reciprocation is not one to take lightly. This is not to say that simply treating gum disease will reduce the need to treat diabetes by more conventional methods (medications, dietary and exercise modifications, etc), but serves to show that our bodily systems and processes are far from independent.
Another condition that afflicts an overwhelming portion of our population that has been shown to correlate with gum disease is cardiovascular/heart disease. The link here is not all that much different than the gum disease-diabetes link. This is not to say that gum disease causes heart disease as that connection has never been proven, but research indicates that gum disease may be a significant risk factor. Inasmuch as gum disease has been linked to worsening of diabetic complications, so has it been linked to increased risk to those currently battling cardiovascular issues. For example, those suffering from infective endocarditis (infection of the lining of the heart muscle), may be at risk for developing more frequent infections due to systemic inflammatory response caused by uncontrolled gum disease. Again, while the link may not be there to suggest that gum disease causes heart disease, the current research is definitely powerful enough to suggest there are correlations and increases of risk.
While there are other chronic inflammatory conditions that we can discuss, I think the
message is pretty well clear. Research has been studying gum disease links to a variety of
conditions, even a multitude of cancers. This is not to suggest that keeping your teeth and
gums healthy and maintaining regular dental visits is the only preventive measure you can take to live as long and healthy of a life as possible, but it sure can help. Having your dentist and dental hygienist evaluate the health of your gum tissue regularly serves a purpose far greater than just keeping your mouth healthy. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions of your dental health providers.
If there are any further questions on this topic, please feel free to email us at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or post a question to our Facebook page @ Karr and Blazer Dental.
Also, another wonderful resource the American Academy of Periodontology website www.perio.org.
Thanks for reading and be sure to look out for future blog posts on other significant dental