For years, dentists have suspected a connection between gum disease (i.e., periodontal disease) and chronic health conditions like heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes. Today, research is proving that their suspicions were right.
ORAL BACTERIA, CAVITIES AND GUM DISEASE
Although more than 700 types of bacterial species have been detected in the mouth, most people host fewer than 100. While the majority of these species are harmless and even beneficial, there are some that cause tooth decay and periodontal disease. The two most common of these harmful species are streptococcus mutans and porphyromonas gingivalis. These bacteria feed off of the starches and sugars that we eat.
The by-product of streptococcus mutans is an enamel-eroding acid that eats away at the protective covering of the teeth, the enamel. Once the enamel is damaged, a cavity can develop.
Porphyromonas gingivalis is the bacteria linked to periodontitis. Periodontitis is serious because it can negatively affect the support structures of the teeth, cause dental pain and lead to tooth loss. Porphyromonas gingivalis can infect the stem cells of the periodontal ligament. These stem cells are essential in the maintenance, repair and self-renewal of the periodontal tissue, which is why the support structures of the teeth begin to break down.
HOW BACTERIA SPREADS THROUGHOUT YOUR BODY
Due to the inflammation associated with periodontal disease, bleeding gums (i.e., gingiva) are common with this condition. As the gums begin to bleed, they create a pathway for the bacteria to spread throughout the body and cause other health problems.
How gum disease affects body systems:
- The Immune System – as the white blood cells send antibodies to the infected area, inflammation results. This inflammatory response may cause the arteries to swell and trigger the development of other inflammatory diseases (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, etc.).
- The Circulatory System – once the bacteria enter the bloodstream and begin traveling throughout the body, they may impact diseases that are already in progress or a secondary infection may result.
- The Respiratory System – the bacteria responsible for periodontal disease can adhere to saliva droplets. If you inhale these droplets, you could develop a pulmonary infection and begin experiencing respiratory problems.
- Glucose Levels – periodontal disease increases glucose levels in individuals who have diabetes; hence, making it more difficult for them to control their blood sugar. In addition, diabetes increases the likelihood that an individual will develop gum disease.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there is evidence that suggests gum disease raises the blood sugar of those who have diabetes as well as those who do not. In addition, The ADA states that severe periodontal disease increases the risk of an individual developing type 2 diabetes and a pregnant mother developing gestational diabetes.
WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PERIODONTAL DISEASE AND OTHER HEALTH PROBLEMS?
One theory suggests that the chemical signals released due to the chronic inflammation associated with gum disease could contribute to inflammatory conditions like chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), diabetes, certain types of cancer as well as cause an increase in the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in the heart.
Understanding the gum disease connection to:
- Diabetes – diabetes causes thickening of the blood vessels; thus, slowing the flow of nutrients and the removal of harmful waste from the gums. This sluggishness is detrimental to the health of the bone and the gingiva because it weakens their ability to resist infection, increasing the likelihood of periodontal disease development.
- Heart Disease – people who have gum disease are nearly twice as likely to have coronary artery disease than those who do not. One theory suggests that the chemical signals released due to the chronic inflammation associated with gum disease could increase the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque. Another theory states that once the bacteria in the mouth enter the bloodstream, they settle on the coronary artery plaque that already exists and aid in the formation of clots in the arteries responsible for feeding the heart.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis – according to a study presented at the 2018 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology Programme, increased levels of the bacteria responsible for causing periodontal disease put individuals at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis. The study shows that the antibodies associated with RA are present long before the joint disease itself becomes evident. This suggests that the antibodies originate from a place outside of the joints, such as the gingiva. It is this local inflammation that provides the primary trigger for the development of the systemic autoimmunity seen with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
By practicing good dental hygiene and eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar, you can reduce the number of disease-causing bacteria in your mouth. At Smiles by Shields, we care about our patients’ overall wellbeing. For this reason, we offer a relaxing environment and create each of our patients a custom-designed, holistic treatment plan tailored to meet his or her specific needs. If you are in or around the Jacksonville, Florida area and you need dental care or would like to learn more about the benefits of holistic dentistry, contact our office today at 904.731.0777.