How is periodontal disease linked to other health issues?

Periodontal disease has been directly linked to a number of other health problems. Among these is smoking, diabetes, pregnancy problems and heart disease.

Smoking has been shown to make periodontal disease significantly worse. Smoking decreases the blood supply to the oral tissues, and inhibits the bodyís bone-building capability. The decreased blood circulation of a smoker can act to mask periodontal disease, since there is often less bleeding of the smokerís gums. However, the bone loss is frequently much worse, and nearly impossible to stop unless the smoker is willing to stop smoking.

Diabetes has health implications throughout the body, and a growing number of Americans are being diagnosed with diabetes. In diabetics, the higher levels of sugars in the body fluids (including oral fluids) provide the bacteria of the mouth with a constant food source. In addition, the diabeticís immune system is not as strong as others. The bacteria are able to thrive, producing toxins that travel throughout the bloodstream, and act to worsen the diabetes. This situation requires close monitoring by both dental and medical teams, if the teeth are to be saved.

The toxins produced by bone-destroying oral bacteria are now thought to travel throughout the bloodstream. They can result in pre-term, low birth weight babies. For this reason, pregnant women are strongly encouraged to see their dental care team, and keep their periodontal disease under control while pregnant.

Recently, a possible new player in heart disease was identified. C-reactive protein results from chronic, low-grade infections such as periodontal disease, and is now strongly linked to heart disease. Eliminating the source of chronic infection will place less stress on the immune system, while helping to reduce the risk of additional damage to the circulatory system.

Did you notice the many possible links between these health problems, and how they can act together to make bad situations worse? For the health of an unborn child, periodontal disease needs to be controlled, but so does diabetes, and smoking should be stopped altogether. Periodontal disease plays a role in heart disease, but so does smoking. Smoking and diabetes both worsen periodontal disease, making it even harder to treat.

Source: Washington State Dental Hygienists Association: Oral Health Information

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