You may have heard that, periodontal (gum) disease is the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, but did you know that periodontal disease can have effects on your body beyond your mouth? This is because the same bacteria and inflammatory factors that cause infection and the breakdown of bone and tissue in your mouth can travel to other parts of your body through your bloodstream and lungs, contributing to many systemic diseases.
Periodontal disease is harmful to your vascular system due to the inflammation caused by oral bacteria traveling through your bloodstream. As a result, patients with periodontal disease are twice as likely to also have heart disease. The oral bacteria that cause periodontal disease also cause inflammation in the arteries. This inflammation contributes to arterial plaque, which can break loose and clog arteries resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Another way periodontal disease can affect the vascular system is by causing inflammation in the blood vessels. In men with periodontal disease, especially those under age 30 or over age 70, chronic oral inflammation has been linked to blood vessel damage and decreased blood flow which can lead to impotence.
As the oral bacteria continues to travel through the bloodstream, it can cause detrimental effects to other organs. Periodontal disease has also been associated with certain cancers, including kidney cancer and pancreatic cancer. Oral bacteria have also been found in the brain tissue and spinal fluid of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. One such oral bacteria, P.gingivalis, was also found to increase the components of amyloid plaques, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to traveling through your bloodstream, oral bacteria can also be inhaled from your mouth to your lungs and contribute to respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
But just as oral infections can increase problems throughout the body, treating periodontal disease can have beneficial effects on your health. For example, studies have shown, that treating periodontal disease can decrease blood glucose levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The best way to reduce your risk and severity of systemic diseases that are linked to periodontal disease is by preventing periodontal disease from occurring, which in most cases, means practicing proper dental care. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes, flossing at least once a day, and at least two dental check ups per year.
Talk to your dentist or periodontist about diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of periodontal disease. Your health may depend on it.