Oral Health & General Health Connections
Taking care of your oral health is just as important as exercising and maintaining a healthy diet. Your mouth is the ideal environment for bacteria to grow, with the warmth, moisture, and nutrients from the food and drinks you consume. When these harmful bacteria accumulate around your teeth and gums, you risk developing gum disease. Periodontal disease, an infection and inflammation of the gums and bone surrounding your teeth, can impact the rest of your body. Research has found that gum disease is related to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory infections, pneumonia, pregnancy complications, and dementia.
Gingivitis (Gum Disease)
Most adults in Ireland have gum disease to some degree, and it is crucial to treat it in the early stages, called gingivitis. If left untreated in some people, it can escalate to periodontitis, where your gums can recede, and in severe cases your teeth can become loose or fall out. In the presence of severe gingivitis, with inflammation and large swollen gums, bacteria and their toxic byproducts can enter the bloodstream during dental cleaning or flossing or if you have a cut or wound inside your mouth.
Periodontal Disease and Diabetes
Gum disease has a two-way relationship with diabetes, and the systemic inflammation caused by periodontal disease may worsen the body’s ability to signal and respond to insulin. Researchers found that diabetics treated for periodontal disease experienced a decrease of 12-14% in overall healthcare costs. If large amounts of bacteria from the mouth are inhaled and settle in the lungs, bacterial aspiration pneumonia can occur, which is a concern for those who cannot brush or floss on their own. Long term residents of nursing homes are particularly at risk.
Periodontal Disease and Cardiovascular Conditions
International experts have concluded that there is a significant link between periodontitis and heart attack, stroke, plaque buildup in the arteries, and other cardiovascular conditions. Some evidence suggests that periodontal bacteria from the mouth may travel to the arteries in vascular disease patients, potentially playing a role in the development of the disease. Better oral hygiene practices are linked to lower rates of heart disease.
Periodontal Disease and Pregnancy
Severe periodontal disease has been linked to preterm, low-birth-weight babies. Treating periodontal disease during pregnancy improved birth weight and reduced the risk of preterm birth and
the death of the fetus or newborn. Oral bacteria could travel to the placenta, potentially playing a role in chorioamnionitis, a serious infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid that could lead to an early delivery, or even cause life-threatening complications if left untreated.
Oral Health and Alzheimer’s Disease
Oral bacteria, especially those related to periodontitis, could affect the brain directly via “infection of the central nervous system” or indirectly by inducing “chronic systemic inflammation” that reaches the brain. Some researchers noted that oral bacteria found in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease may play a role in the disease.