Gum Disease: No Big Deal-Right? Wrong!
While many value the benefits of having healthy teeth and do all the right things to keep their gums in shape, there are those who feel, “Hey, they’re only teeth.” The latter, while never volunteering to have their teeth removed, do not attribute any major importance to them. For instance, untreated periodontal disease may lower birth weights of newborns. Now studies find that periodontal (gum) infections may contribute to the development of heart disease, which is the nation’s number one killer. If that weren’t enough, gum infections pose a serious threat to anyone whose health is already compromised due to diabetes or respiratory disease.
Let’s first talk about how the gums relate to the heart. If you have a healthy heart, this doesn’t pertain to you. Getting your teeth cleaned or having a gum abscess does matter if you have a weakened heart valve, as in mitral valve prolapse or aortic stenosis. Why? Bacteria from the mouth find their way into the circulatory system. They may be introduced when your teeth are cleaned or can arise from an infection. In either case, these “circulating” bacteria are normally gobbled up by the white blood cells before they do any damage. Should they pass through the body and make it to the heart unscathed, the chance exists that they will colonize on a weakened valve and cause a severe problem (bacterial endocarditis). For this reason, patients with any of the above conditions are suggested to pre-medicate with antibiotics when receiving dental care.
Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without it and that diseased gums released significantly higher levels of bacterial pro-inflammatory components, such as endotoxins, into the bloodstream in patients with severe periodontal disease compared to healthy patients. Circulating bacteria can also impact on coronary artery disease. The walls of the coronary arteries can thicken due to the build-up of fatty proteins. Often blood clots form in these narrowed coronary arteries and normal blood flow activity is obstructed. This depletes the heart of the nutrients and oxygen it needs to function properly. Scientists now believe that bacteria found in the oral cavity can attach to these fatty plaques once they enter the bloodstream. Clinging to the heart walls, these bacteria may contribute to clot formation.
When it comes to diabetes, gum disease cannot be ignored. The link between the two has been well-documented. We have always known that diabetics are prone to more infections and heal slowly. Now studies find that periodontal disease may make a pre-existing diabetic condition worse. It has been shown that diabetics require less insulin once their gum condition has been treated. Since periodontal disease is a risk factor for the progression of diabetes, physicians should consider the periodontal status of their diabetic patients who have difficulty with glycemic control.
If you are experience any pain, swelling, bleeding or recession of your gums, make an appointment for an oral examination.