The Connection Between Oral Care And Chronic Diseases
Why dental care? The answers are varied: the allure of a perfect set of pearly whites or, on the other hand, the fear of caries and gum problems that invariably lead to the dentist’s chair.
Well, there are additional reasons to support regimented oral care – gum problems are linked to an increased risk for heart and lung diseases, diabetes and, in pregnant women, a greater tendency for babies to be delivered pre-term and with low-birth weight.
Dr. Ray Williams, an expert in periodontology and dentistry at the University of North Carolina’s school of dentistry, says “An initial study of 20,749 subjects showed that subjects with periodontitis had a 24% increased risk of coronary heart disease relative to those had minimal periodontal disease.”
The connection comes from open, bleeding wounds that emerge because of gum conditions like gingivitis and periodontitis. Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream and reach distant organs. This results in inflammation, which is never good news.
- An early form of gum disease caused by the build up of plaque and tartar around the teeth.
- If not removed, plaque (a sticky film that can harbor over 400 species of bacteria) irritates the gums, leaving them red, swollen and tender.
- Over time, the condition results in bleeding and receding gums, a build up of pus in gums, loose teeth, bad breath, bad taste and changes in teeth positioning.
- May also be caused by over vigorous brushing and flossing.
- May not have symptoms in its early stages.
- A more severe form of gum inflammation that causes bone loss around the tooth. Is usually a progression of untreated gingivitis.
- Causes progressive bone loss around teeth, looseness and eventual tooth loss.
Inflammation is a major cause of plaque formation in blood vessels and leads to arteriosclerosis – the thickening and hardening of artery walls. The vessels are narrowed, causing hypertension and a subsequent host of heart conditions.
Inflammation is also believed to damage the pancreas, the organ responsible for the production of insulin which maintains sugar levels in the blood. Irreversible impairment of insulin production is, of course, the prelude to diabetes.
“Once this happens, it may trigger type 2 diabetes, even in healthy individuals with no other risk factors for diabetes,” says Dr. Williams.
In a vicious cycle, diabetics, particularly those with fluctuating sugar levels, are at greater risk of developing gum disease.
Other contributing factors in gum disease include tobacco use, family history and poor immunity.
Dental Care And Pregnancy
The most important patients at the moment are expectant mothers. Hormonal changes that change blood flow places them and their children at greater risk once bacteria enters the bloodstream.
Dr. Williams explains that current medical practices emphasize immediate treatment upon detection, because gum disease is linked to a significant risk for delivering pre-term and low-birth weight babies.
The message to mums-to-be: schedule regular dental check-ups with your dentist to maintain gum health throughout your pregnancy.
The frequency of check-ups varies according to the individual’s health – some women require only two check-ups during the course of nine months, while others should visit the dentist as often as every two months.
For the normal individual, dental check-ups are usually recommended twice a year.