At one time, periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) was looked at as simply ‘an infection of the mouth.’ It is now understood, however, that all infections can spread, and just because gum disease begins in the mouth doesn’t mean it stays there. In fact, whenever there is an infection in the body, the liver creates C-reactive protein (CRP) and a strong connection has been found between CRP in the blood and heart disease.
Periodontal disease has also been found to be a risk factor for stroke, type 2 diabetes and pre-term, low-birth weight infants. And in January of 2007, The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported “a relationship between pancreatic cancer and periodontal disease.” Continuing studies are also finding a “bi-directional interaction between oral health and systemic health,” which simply means that gum disease can lead to systemic diseases such as heart disease or it can indicate their existence in the body. Research continues to make it very clear that gum disease is not something to be taken lightly.
It is estimated that “80 percent of American adults” currently have some form of gum disease, and the tricky thing about that is that periodontal disease doesn’t have any symptoms until it is already doing damage in the mouth…and possibly the entire body. From gingivitis to periodontitis, whenever any type of gum disease is present, it means that an infection is either trying to get started in the mouth or it has already started and is causing damage from tissue and bone loss to being a risk factor for much bigger health problems.
In fact, medical and dental insurance companies have recognized the possible connection between oral infections and systemic diseases and are starting to provide better periodontal treatment coverage in insurance policies. Some insurance companies have taken it a step further and are monitoring patients with “complex health problems to ensure that they’re receiving routine dental care as a part of their overall healthcare regimen.”
Yet periodontal disease can be prevented. Even though there are certain risk factors that can elevate the probability of gum disease–poor oral hygiene, smoking, health problems, or certain medications–good oral hygiene can, in many cases, prevent the problem and regular dental checkups and professional cleanings can find the problem if it does get started and either stop it in its tracks or heal the issue with a variety of non-surgical or surgical treatments. Good daily oral hygiene habits and regular visits to the dentist are the best ways to ensure that gum disease doesn’t get a chance to do damage to the mouth or the rest of the body.
Eating a balanced diet and limiting sugary snacks plus brushing at least twice a day (after every meal is even better) and flossing once a day (before bedtime is ideal), along with regular dental checkups and professional cleanings can help maintain, monitor and/or improve any oral issues that could lead to periodontal disease and infections that could permeate into other systems within the body.