Research suggests chronic inflammation links gum disease to other disease states.
Brush after every meal. Floss daily. See your dental professional regularly. These instructions make sense coming from your dentist to help you sustain your oral health. But now not only dentists, but also many physicians are stressing the importance of maintaining oral health in an effort to keep the rest of the body healthy. Research has long suggested an association between gum disease and other health issues—including heart disease, stroke and diabetes—but now scientists are beginning to shift their focus to understanding why these connections exist. An emerging theory, and one gaining support from researchers worldwide, is that inflammation may link the mouth to the body.
Inflammation is the body’s instinctive reaction to fight off infection, guard against injury or shield against irritation. Inflammation is often characterized by swelling, redness, heat and pain around the affected area. While inflammation initially intends to heal the body, over time, chronic inflammation can lead to dysfunction of the infected tissues, and therefore more severe health complications.
According to Dr. Susan Karabin, Past President of the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) and a practicing periodontist in New York City, periodontal disease is a textbook example of an inflammatory disorder: “For many years, dental professionals believed that gum disease was solely the result of a bacterial infection caused by a build-up of plaque between the teeth and under the gums. While plaque accumulation is still a factor in the development and progression of gum disease, researchers now suspect that the more severe symptoms, namely swollen, bleeding gums; recession around the gum line, and loss of the bone that holds the teeth in place, may be caused by the chronic inflammatory response to the bacterial infection, rather than the bacteria itself.”
Periodontists, the dentists specially trained in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, hypothesize that this inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth may be the cause behind the periodontal-systemic health link. Many of the diseases associated with periodontal disease are also considered to be systemic inflammatory disorders, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease and even certain forms of cancer, suggesting that inflammation itself may be the basis for the connection.
“More research is needed to pinpoint the precise biological mechanisms responsible for the relationship between gum disease and other disease states,” says Dr. Karabin. “However, previous findings have indicated that gum disease sufferers are at a higher risk for other diseases, making it more critical than ever to maintain periodontal health in order to achieve overall health.”
To avoid gum disease, Dr. Karabin recommends comprehensive daily oral care, including regular brushing and flossing, and routine visits to the dentist. If gum disease develops, a consultation with a dental professional, such as a periodontist, can lead to effective treatment. Patients diagnosed with gum disease should also disclose all health conditions to his or her dental professional, and be sure to update other health care professionals on his or her periodontal health.
A recent supplement to the Journal of Periodontology highlighted current discussions between dental professionals and health care professionals on the role of oral inflammation in the progression of other disease states. As research continues to emerge that supports the mouth-body connection, the more vital it becomes that both dentists and physicians work together to ensure the most comprehensive wellbeing for their patients.
About the American Academy of Periodontology
The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) is the professional organization for periodontists – specialists in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth, and in the placement of dental implants. Periodontists are also dentistry’s experts in the treatment of oral inflammation. They receive three additional years of specialized training following dental school, and periodontics is one of the nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. The AAP has 8,000 members world-wide.