Current research continues to establish clear links between bacterial disease in your mouth and ailments in other parts of the body. Studies show a link between oral bacteria and conditions such as heart disease, stroke, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and certain types of cancers. The integration of oral and general health has never been better understood than it is currently.
Bleeding gums provide a direct pathway into the bloodstream, a journey that toxic oral bacteria can quickly take. In fact, if bleeding gums connected into one single patch, it would create a 2 x 2-inch square. If an open wound of this size existed on your skin, infection would be a concern. Bleeding, infected gums offer this open door to your body and sit saturated in colonies of bacteria. This helps explain why researchers continue to identify oral bacteria deposits in various areas of our bodies.
Diabetes and other auto-immune disorders lower the body’s ability to fight infection, allowing uncontrolled gum disease to advance faster and with more destruction. Research also confirms that the inflammation in the mouth can aggravate diabetes, making it harder to control. This two-way relationship between two chronic conditions emphasizes the importance of optimal oral health.
Periodontal disease and systemic health
Research has shown that periodontal disease is associated with several other diseases. For a long time it was thought that bacteria was the factor that linked periodontal disease to other disease in the body; however, more recent research demonstrates that inflammation may be responsible for the association. Therefore, treating inflammation may not only help manage periodontal diseases but may also help with the management of other chronic inflammatory conditions.
Diabetes and periodontal disease
Diabetic patients are more likely to develop periodontal disease, which in turn can increase blood sugar and diabetic complications.
People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, probably because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered a complication of diabetes. Those people who don't have their diabetes under control are especially at risk.
Research has suggested that the relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease goes both ways - periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar.
Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts people with diabetes at increased risk for diabetic complications.
Several studies have shown that periodontal disease is associated with heart disease. While a cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, research has indicated that periodontal disease increases the risk of heart disease.
Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have heart disease. A recent analysis shows that the potential heart disease risk for patients with periodontal disease may be even greater than for those with high cholesterol. For too many Americans, this reality hits close to home in that more than 85 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD), while more than 200 million American adults have some form of periodontal disease.
Understanding the link between periodontal disease and heart disease: The suspected role of bacteria and inflammation
Scientists suspect the link between the two diseases is due to the same bacteria. In this scenario, bacteria found in infected gum tissue around teeth break down the barrier between the gums and the underlying connective tissue, causing inflammation. During normal chewing or brushing, bacteria can enter the bloodstream and move to other parts of the circulatory system, contributing to the formation of cardiovascular disease.
Inflammation, or swelling, is the body’s natural response to infection. It is possible that as oral bacteria travel through the body it triggers a similar response, which then leads to the formation of arterial plaque. Oral bacteria have been found in the fatty deposits of people with atherosclerosis. These deposits can narrow arteries or break loose and clog them entirely, leading to heart attack or stroke.
While scientists are still researching whether inflammation is at the root of the problem, one thing is for sure: It is firmly established that a link exists between periodontal disease and heart disease.
Additional studies have pointed to a relationship between periodontal disease and stroke. In one study that looked at the causal relationship of oral infection as a risk factor for stroke, people diagnosed with acute cerebrovascular ischemia were found more likely to have an oral infection when compared to those in the control group.
Researchers have suggested that there is a link between osteoporosis and bone loss in the jaw. Studies suggest that osteoporosis may lead to tooth loss because the density of the bone that supports the teeth may be decreased, which means the teeth no longer have a solid foundation.
Research has found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be aspirated into the lungs to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, especially in people with periodontal disease.
A new study has found a link between gum disease and greater rates of cognitive decline in people with early stages of Alzheimer's Disease. Periodontitis or gum disease is common in older people and may become more common in Alzheimer's disease because of a reduced ability to take care of oral hygiene as the disease progresses. Higher levels of antibodies to periodontal bacteria are associated with an increase in levels of inflammatory molecules elsewhere in the body, which in turn has been linked to greater rates of cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease in previous studies. The latest study set out to determine whether gum disease is associated with increased dementia severity and subsequent greater progression of cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's disease.
“A number of studies have shown that having few teeth, possibly as a consequence of earlier gum disease, is associated with a greater risk of developing dementia. We also believe, based on various research findings, that the presence of teeth with active gum disease results in higher body-wide levels of the sorts of inflammatory molecules which have also been associated with an elevated risk of other outcomes such as cognitive decline or cardiovascular disease. Research has suggested that effective gum treatment can reduce the levels of these molecules closer to that seen in a healthy state.”
-Dr Mark Ide
Researchers found that men with gum disease were 49% more likely to develop kidney cancer, 54% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, and 30% more likely to develop blood cancers.