Recent scientific studies have finally confirmed what we have suspected for many years; oral health directly impacts your overall well-being. When you are brushing and flossing your teeth, you are not only preventing tooth decay and gum disease, but you are also minimizing your risks in developing many of the degenerative diseases of the 21st century. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cerebrovascular incidents (stroke), pre-term births, and bacteremias (bacterial infection in the blood) have all been linked to the bacteria that lurks in the plaque found above and below the gum line in our mouths.
The presence of bacteria near the gum line causes inflammation which leaves the gum tissue swollen and prone to bleeding. The open wounds of the gum tissue are the entry points for the bacteria that reside in the area. These bacteria can now enter the bloodstream and settle in any of the tissues and organs of the body. The chronic inflammation of the gum tissue and the body’s response to that inflammation weakens the body’s immune system and increases one’s susceptibility to degenerative disease.
The British Medical Journal published a study in 2010 which concluded that “poor oral hygiene is associated with higher levels of risk of cardiovascular disease and low grade inflammation. The bacteria found in the plaque build up on blocked coronary arteries is the same bacteria found in subgingival and supragingival calculus.”
In 2010, The Journal of Dentistry published a review of the literature relating periodontal disease to cancer. Oral and esophageal cancers were the most consistent cancers in the studies that were related to periodontal disease. Gastric and pancreatic cancers had an association in most but not all of the studies.
The Journal of Clinical Periodontolgy in 2010 released a study proving that maternal periodontitis is associated with an increased risk of induced preterm birth due to pre-eclampsia.
What does all this mean? In very simple terms, we must understand that the mouth is the ideal environment in which bacteria can thrive. It is moist, dark, full of little nooks and crannies in which these bugs can multiply and grow, and is constantly being fed with the sugars necessary for their survival. It is this bacteria that manages to enter into our bloodstream through the walls of the gum tissue that they have weakened. Once in our bloodsteam, the bacteria and the inflammation that it causes, are the contributing factors to degenerative disease.
It is with this in mind that now, more than ever, dentists and hygienists in partnership with their patients, must do everything possible to maintain a plaque-free mouth to help minimize the risks in developing the above-mentioned life threatening diseases. Patient specific oral hygiene programs must be formulated and adhered to. This will often include the need for scaling every three months for at risk patients as well as the need for oral rinses, daily flossing, and irrigating devices.
Brushing and flossing will not only save your teeth; it may save your life!
Dr. Brian Kaplansky