My name is Kyle Hornby and I am a Dentist in Kitchener, Ontario. Each week, I tackle subjects and answer FAQs to help raise the bar on dental health information available to the general public. Today, I’m going to discuss connections between dental health and systemic disease.
Until recently, health care has been delivered with very little emphasis on the link between oral health and overall health. This may be due, in part, to the fact that medical doctors deliver care for the entire body while Dentists deliver care for the mouth and jaws. As a result, the general population has not been made aware of the fact that what happens in the mouth affects the entire body. Today, I’d like to discuss just a few of the many ways in which poor oral health can contribute to systemic disease.
First, let’s talk about one of the main oral health factors that can negatively affect your overall health: Periodontitis or “Gum Disease”.
Gum Disease and Systemic Health
Gum disease is an inflammatory condition that causes you to lose gum and jaw bone attachment to teeth. Basically, your body’s immune system tries to fight off harmful bacteria in your mouth. This battle can sometimes result in an unintended destruction of gum tissue and jaw bone. The reason that I say “sometimes” is that the destruction of tissues depends on how aggressive your immune response is to oral bacteria. For instance, two individuals with roughly the same amount of plaque containing the same amount of bad bacteria are likely to have different immune responses to these irritants. Moreover, some individuals may have an overactive immune system that results in gum and bone destruction in spite of a very clean and tidy mouth.
In fact, classic studies have shown that the inflammatory conditions seen in Gingivitis do not progress to Periodontitis or Gum Disease in all people.
Generally, Gum Disease resulting from poor oral hygiene and high levels of oral plaque and harmful bacteria has the most negative effect on systemic health.
Now, I’d like to look at a few specific ways in which dental health affects your overall wellbeing.
Dental Health and Cardiovascular Disease
Atherosclerosis, is a clogging of the arteries and blood vessels by fatty deposits that form plaques. This condition is the precursor for most Cardiovascular diseases.
Studies indicate that Gum Disease can cause an increase in the level of inflammatory factors in your body. This can cause an increase in inflammatory activity within atherosclerotic plaques, possibly increasing the risk of a Heart Attack or Stroke. In other studies, oral plaque and bacteria have been found in major vessel and artery blockages. This shows us that what happens in the mouth can happen elsewhere in the body, too.
Dental Health and Pre-term Birth
Studies have shown a relationship between pre-term birth and/or low birth weight and Periodontitis (Gum Disease). In general, gum disease appears to be a risk factor for poor pregnancy outcome. Some studies indicate that intervention to improve oral health and limit gum disease can improve pregnancy outcomes.
The way in which gum disease influences birth term appears to be through change in inflammatory factors that trigger labour. Generally, markers of infection will raise levels of many pro-inflammatory factors in the body. If initiation of labour depends on inflammatory markers reaching a certain threshold, then gum disease could elevate levels of those mediators so that threshold is reached sooner.
Other studies show that expectant Mothers with gum disease are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Dental Health and Diabetes
Diabetes Mellitus is a systemic condition characterized by high-blood sugar (hyperglycemia) due to a relative lack of insulin or insulin resistance. More simply, people with Diabetes aren’t able to move sugars out of the bloodstream and into muscles and organs efficiently because they don’t have much insulin or because their bodies have lost the ability to “hear” or respond to insulin. Diabetes can dramatically diminish quality of life by hampering many of the body’s systems. This can lead to weaker immunity, eyesight, sensory perception in addition to a host of other problems.
There is a proven two-way relationship between Diabetes and Gum Disease. Controlling Gum Disease with a proper home care routine, as well as frequent professional dental cleanings, can improve blood sugar control. In the other direction, patients who improve blood sugar control can improve immune function and reduce gum and bone destruction seen in gum disease.
By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist
Our Kitchener Dental Office is conveniently located in Downtown Kitchener. We are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.