WHAT IS THE ORAL-SYSTEMIC LINK?
You may have heard people referring to the mouth as the gateway to the rest of the body. Medical professionals have been finding increasing evidence demonstrating just how much the health of our mouths impacts the health of the rest of our bodies. This mouth-body connection is what we call the oral-systemic link.
Did you know that dental exams are often where diseases like diabetes, cancer, and Crohn’s disease are first detected? Many of the early symptoms of these diseases appear first in the mouth. And, going in the other direction, it has been found that periodontal disease has connections with many other ailments that affect the rest of the body.
Much like we have the blood-brain barrier which keeps toxins in the blood from reaching our brains, there is also a sort of barrier that protects our bloodstream from the bacteria in our mouths. Gum disease can cause this barrier to break down, however, which can lead to issues that affect more than just our teeth and gums.
The exact nature of these links between overall health and oral health is still being researched, but the current belief is that inflammation plays a big role in the oral-systemic link. Evidence is showing that treatment of the inflammation caused by periodontal disease can help with the treatment of other inflammatory conditions.
What are some of the diseases with strong oral connections?
The American Academy of Periodontology reported that those with gum disease have an increased chance of developing various types of cancer. Specifically:
- Pancreatic cancer – 54% increased chance
- Kidney cancer – 49% increased chance
- Blood cancers – 30% increased chance
It’s possible to aspirate (breathe in) bacteria from our mouths into our lungs. The same bacteria found in periodontal disease can cause respiratory conditions such as pneumonia.
Heart Disease and Stroke
It’s been found that conditions that cause chronic inflammation, such as periodontal disease, have ties to conditions like stroke and heart disease, and can increase their likelihood of happening.
Diabetes and periodontal disease have been found to affect one another, with diabetes making gum disease worse and gum disease making it harder to control diabetes.
What are other diseases with connections to oral health?
The following have all shown some degree of connection with oral health:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Breast and prostate cancer
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Pregnancy issues
- Weight gain
With the links between all of these health conditions and oral health becoming increasingly clear, it should be obvious why it is important to deal with issues like gum disease as soon as possible. If you have concerns about gum disease, contact us to schedule a consultation.
Below, we’ll be taking a closer look at the connections between periodontal disease, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and many others.
Heart Disease & Stroke
How Is Gum Disease Connected to Heart Disease and Stroke?
As we pointed out in a previous article, there are many health conditions that are tied to the state of your mouth. In this article, we’ll be looking a little closer at the links between periodontal disease and conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Very strong links have been established between oral health and cardiovascular disease, but researchers are still trying to clarify whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship. Evidence appears to be indicating a strong connection between heart disease and chronic inflammation such as what is found in gum disease. This chronic inflammation is tied to the narrowing or blockages of blood vessels, which, in turn, can lead to a stroke or heart attack.
In an article examining a number of related studies, it was pointed out that having gum disease could increase a person’s chance of having heart disease by nearly 20%. Another study showed that those with gum disease have nearly double the risk of suffering a stroke than those with healthy gums.
These are significant risk factors and should be enough to drive home the importance of treating periodontal disease for the sake of overall health.
Watch for the signs of gum disease
’It’s important to keep an eye out for the early signs of gum disease in order to stop it while it is still reversible. Red, swollen gums which bleed when you brush and floss can be the first signs of gingivitis. As this progresses into periodontal disease, the gums will begin to recede and form periodontal pockets, and ultimately the loss of gum and bone tissue that support the teeth.
If you have been diagnosed with gum disease and are seeking treatment, please reach out to your dentist or periodontist to schedule a consultation so that you can get back on the path to good oral health.
How Is Gum Disease Connected to Diabetes?
In our previous article, we touched briefly on the connections between oral health and the health of the rest of the body. We briefly touched on diabetes and the connection with periodontal disease, and in this article, we’ll go into a little more detail.
Diabetes is a disorder that happens when the body has a higher-than-normal amount of blood sugar, known as glucose. Ordinarily, the hormone insulin regulates this sugar level and helps the cells of your body use this blood sugar for energy. Diabetes is the condition where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin leading to too much sugar in the bloodstream.
Insulin isn’t the only factor, however. It’s been found that the kind of inflammation from periodontal disease can impact the body’s ability to manage glucose as well. So, those who have both diabetes and gum disease may find themselves having an even harder time managing their blood sugar levels than they would otherwise. Diabetes, and the high blood sugar levels that result, also make for an environment where gum infections can be more likely to happen.
Fighting diabetes with a healthy mouth
Because of this link, getting treatment for gum disease can help improve things for those with diabetes. It’s yet another reason why taking care of your oral health is an important part of caring for your overall wellbeing. Make sure you are practicing good oral hygiene habits; brushing for two minutes twice a day and flossing.
For those who have noticed the early signs of gum disease, or who have already been diagnosed, get in touch with your dentist to find out what treatment options are right for you.
A Connection Between Gum Disease and Pancreatic Cancer?
Links between oral health and many serious ailments are continually being uncovered, which should only serve to further emphasize the importance of taking care of your mouth, gums, and teeth. Pancreatic cancer is yet another serious condition with ties to oral health, as has been revealed in studies performed at Brown University, Harvard, New York University, and others.
Pancreatic cancer is extremely hard to detect and causes death within six months of diagnosis. It is approximated that pancreatic cancer is responsible for nearly 40,000 deaths per year in the US. So, what is the connection between gum disease and pancreatic cancer?
The connection comes from changes in the microbial mix in your mouth. Those who have porphyromonas gingivalis in their mouth were at a 59% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. In addition to prophyromonas gingivalis, those who had aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans were 50% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
While the names may not mean much to the average person, the important thing to understand is that both of these types of bacteria have been tied to gum disease.
Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not take proper care of their gums. It is reported that nearly half of American adults over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease. If you look at Americans over the age of 65, the percentage suffering from periodontal disease increases to 65%. Although not nearly as talked about, gum disease is almost 2.5 times more common than diabetes.
However, there is some good news! Gum disease responds extremely well to treatment and can easily be reversed after being detected by your dentist.
As stated over and over again, optimal overall health starts with your oral health. If you are suffering from gum disease, or do not know for sure if you are suffering or not, scheduling an appointment with a dentist may be advantageous. As stated before, gum disease is easily treated through multiple treatment options.