It has been known for many years that numerous systemic diseases have links to the gum disease called periodontitis. Now, more and more conditions are being added to the list. Over 50% of adults have some degree of periodontal disease, so chances are, this information applies to you. Lots of evidence points to correlation between these diseases- it is still a stretch to say that gum disease causes these other conditions; definitively proving causation in medicine is extremely difficult. In case you didn’t know or needed a refresher, here is a partial list of what the medical community now knows about this subject:
- People with severe gum disease have 3-4 times higher risk of brain stroke.
- People with gum disease have twice the risk of having heart disease.
- Several studies show strong evidence linking gum disease with oral, lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancer.
- Rheumatoid arthritis patients are 8 times more likely to have gum disease.
- Gum disease can worsen COPD and may play a role in the contraction of pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema.
- Gum disease may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia from bacteria that spread through the bloodstream.
Scientists think that a lot of these systemic links are due to chronic inflammation. The inflammation in gum disease can be thought of as due to chronic exposure to bacterial toxins and tartar under your gum lines. Think of how the skin on your finger would react to a splinter you got from a dirty piece of wood, and imagine how it would be if that splinter was present for months or years! Inflammation in your gums causes them to bleed easily as well, which opens up your bloodstream (which is usually sterile) to the many species of bacteria which live in your gum pockets.
Periodontal disease can be treated by removing the irritating tartar from below your gum line, a process known commonly as deep cleaning, as long as it is in the early to moderate stages. More advanced disease may have to be treated surgically, although locally my brother, Dr. Jamie Amir, mostly treats advanced disease with a combination of deep cleaning and laser therapy. I have seen amazing results with periodontal laser therapy even for very severe cases in my own patients.
If you don’t know whether you have periodontal disease or not, see a dentist for a screening. It may reduce your chances of more serious disease later in life, and could even save lives.