Science has drawn a strong connection between periodontal disease and other serious, chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy complications and respiratory disease.
Symptoms of periodontal disease include chronic inflammation of the gums, infection below the gum line and the presence of disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. Dr. Terri reminds patients in Geneva, NY that fighting periodontal disease through a commitment to oral hygiene not only reduces your chances of contracting gum disease and bone loss, but also of developing other serious illnesses.
Studies show that diabetes makes people more susceptible to periodontal disease, which can raise blood-sugar levels. This makes controlling the amount of glucose in the blood difficult, and increases the risk of serious diabetic complications. Meanwhile, diabetes causes blood vessels to thicken, making it harder for the mouth to get rid of excess sugar. With too much sugar, the mouth becomes a breeding ground for gum disease-causing oral bacteria.
The link between periodontitis and heart disease is theorized to be caused by strains of oral bacteria attaching themselves to coronary arteries when they enter the bloodstream. This in turn leads to the formation of blood clots and the narrowing of coronary arteries, which can contribute to heart attacks. A second theory is that plaque builds up as periodontal disease causes inflammation of the gums, leading to swollen arteries and the exacerbation of pre-existing heart conditions. The American Academy of Periodontology suggests in an article periodontal bacteria can cause a reaction in patients’ bodies that increases the risk of the development of heart disease.
The natural hormone fluctuations that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause have been shown to increase the risk of periodontal disease development in women. Periodontal disease has been shown to elevate pregnant women’s risk of preeclampsia and underweight, premature delivery. Periodontitis increases production of a labor-inducing chemical called prostaglandin. Too much prostaglandin may lead to premature labor, increasing the chances of babies being born underweight. Another natural substance that can be elevated by periodontal disease is C-reactive protein, which is linked to heart disease but can also amplify the inflammatory response of the body when too much is present, increasing the risk of preeclampsia and underweight babies.
Gum disease-causing oral bacteria are believed to produce or worsen illnesses such as emphysema, pneumonia and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Normal breathing can draw oral bacteria into the lower respiratory system, where the bacteria can colonize and cause bacterial infections. Studies have connected COPD’s symptomatic repeat infections with periodontitis.
In addition to the risks posed by bacteria, gum tissue inflammation can cause severe inflammation in the lining of the lungs, which aggravates pneumonia. People who have inhibited immune systems caused by chronic or persistent respiratory issues are vulnerable to bacterial infections when colonies beneath the gum line go unchallenged by the immune system.