Oral Health: Insights Into Your Overall Health
The Oral Health-Heart Connection: Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease
The connection between periodontal disease and heart disease is well established in the medical literature, Karimbux says. People with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease according to the American Academy of Periodontology. And a 2008 analysis published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that periodontal disease was a risk factor for heart disease separate from other risk factors, such as smoking. Other studies have shown that having gum disease increases the risk for stroke.
How does the inflammation in your mouth affect your heart and blood vessels? Every time you brush or floss, bacteria get released into the blood stream, Karimbux says. According to one theory, bacteria in the blood stream can end up in specific areas, such as where plaque begins to form in the arteries. Once there, bacteria may add to clot formation.
Another theory involves the body's response to inflammation. When gums are inflamed, the body releases certain chemicals into the bloodstream that help fight infection. Scientists think that these chemicals circulate in the blood, and may contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries.
The next question researchers are starting to answer is whether treating periodontal disease will lower the risk for heart disease and other conditions, says Karimbux. He cites a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at 120 patients with severe periodontal disease. Six months after receiving treatment, researchers found lower levels of C-reactive protein in the blood, which is a sign of inflammation. They also found an improvement in blood flow.
Although you have to take into account that it's not a large number of people, Karimbux says, this and other studies are finding that you can lower the amount of inflammation distant from the mouth by treating periodontal disease.
Diabetes and Gum Disease: A Two-Way Street
The connection between oral health and diabetes can be described as a two-way street, according to Kinane. "Diabetes has a major impact on all parts of the body, including the oral cavity." Having diabetes increases the risk for infection in the body, which can lead to periodontal disease. "At the same time," Kinane says, "having periodontal disease increases the amount of inflammation your body is coping with." And that actually worsens diabetes, making it harder to keep blood sugar under control.