By Wilma Bedford
A healthy mouth and healthy body go hand in hand. The mouth is a window to the rest of the body, providing signals of general health disorders.
Bacteria from the mouth which may be among the most complex to exist, can cause infection in other parts of the body when entering the blood stream. Bacteria colonise tooth surfaces and due to the smooth, non-shedding surface of the tooth allow for the development of persistent bacterial colonization and very complex ecosystems.
Several epidemiological studies have found oral infections may be linked to different systemic conditions such as diabetes mellitus, pulmonary infections, cardiovascular disease, pre-term low-weight babies, erectile dysfunction and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Oral health provides doctors with warning signs for a range of diseases and conditions. Gum disease (periodontitis) in a moderate or advanced stage, for instance, may indicate that you are at higher risk for heart disease. As far back as 1891 a link between oral health and cardiovascular disease was proposed and since heart diseases are the prevalent cause of death in Western countries, a great amount of research in this field has been conducted. More recent research by the American Heart Association has linked oral bacteria with arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and strokes. There appears to be some correlation between poor oral health and heart disease. The spread of bacteria from the mouth to the body through the bloodstream to reach the heart causes inflammation which affects the inner lining of the heart. Periodontal interventions result in a reduction in systemic inflammation and dysfunction of the heart and blood vessels but there is no conclusive evidence that they prevent arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arteries) and associated vascular disease, or modify its outcome.
Periodontal disease appears to worsen high blood pressure and interferes with hypertension treatment and untreated hypertension leads to vascular disease. It was found that patients with severe periodontitis had systolic pressure that was, on average, 3mmHg higher that those with good oral health. Where people left hypertension untreated, the systolic pressure increased to 7mmHg.
Evidence suggests that periodontal changes are the first clinical manifestation of diabetes. Periodontal disease is more prevalent and more severe in people with diabetes mellitus. It appears that diabetes promotes periodontitis through an exaggerated inflammatory response to the bacteria in the mouth which, in turn, could cause insulin resistance.
People with gum disease are more likely to have uncontrolled blood sugar than those without. High glucose levels in mouth fluids make diabetes harder to control, help germs grow and set the stage for gum disease. Unstable blood glucose levels increase the risk of developing serious gum disease and losing teeth.
Recent research on erectile dysfunction suggests that this condition shares pathological mechanisms with gum disease and cardiovascular disease. In a nation-wide population-based data survey set in Taiwan, it was found that patients aged between 33 and 59 with ED were more likely to have been diagnosed with prior chronic periodontal disease than the control group.
In another research conducted by the University of Illinois in Chicago, it appears that long-term periodontal disease bacteria cause inflammation and degeneration of brain neurons in mice that is similar to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Periodontal disease may be an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
How does periodontal disease develop?
Periodontitis is an infection of the gums. Plaque builds and hardens under the gums. The gums then pull away from the teeth, forming pockets of infection. This infection leads to loss of the bone that holds the teeth in their sockets.
How to prevent gum disease:
- Brush and floss daily.
- Use a mouthwash to control bacteria and to soften plaque.
- Go for regular dental check-ups.
- Have your teeth regularly cleaned to get rid of hardened plaque.
- Don’t share toothbrushes.
- Quit smoking.
There is no evidence that preventing gum disease will definitely prevent other diseases but it is still important to acknowledge the link between oral health and overall physiological health, not to mention the benefits of a healthy smile to your self-esteem.
If you want to remain healthy, look after your teeth.
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The Human Mouth as a Focus of Infection
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How Oral health and Heart Disease are Connected.
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Taylor, George W. 2008 http://wwwe.jada.ada.org
Oral health, Atherosclerosis and Cardiovascular Disease.
Meurman, Jukka H. 2004 https://www.pdfs.semanticscholar.org
Exploration of the Association between chronic periodontal disease and erectile dysfunction.
Tsao, Chung Wen. 2014 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Periodontal disease bacteria may kick-start Alzheimer’s
University of Illinois Chicago. October 4, 2018. Science Daily. http://www.sciencedaily-com/releases/2018/10/181004100009.htm
American Heart Association. “Poor oral health linked to higher blood pressure” Science Daily. 22 October 2018. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20/10/181022085817.htm>