Mouth - Body Connections

Tooth loss and dental infection are not the only potential problems posed by periodontal diseases. Research suggests there may be a link between periodontal diseases and other health concerns such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, bacterial pneumonia, and increased risk of preterm and low birth weight babies. Researchers are isolating the mechanisms by which inflammation associated with periodontal diseases plays a role in affecting these systemic disease conditions.

Diabetic patients are three-to-four times more likely to develop chronic periodontal infections. Like any other infection in the body, periodontal infections can impair the ability to process and/or utilize insulin, which can make diabetes more difficult to control. In addition, a periodontal infection may be more severe in a diabetic patient than in someone without diabetes. These infections may cause increased blood sugar that can increase the periods of time when a diabetic’s blood sugar is too high. Consequently, it is important for diabetic patients to have their periodontal diseases treated to control or eliminate the infection as one more way to achieve optimal control of their blood sugar levels. Periodontal therapy has been shown to improve blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and may decrease their need for insulin.

Recent studies suggest that people with periodontitis may have nearly twice the risk of having a fatal heart attack as those without periodontitis. Periodontitis is a bacterial infection of the gum and bone that support your teeth. There are several reasons why periodontal bacteria may affect your heart. In the presence of gum disease, normal tasks such as chewing or brushing your teeth may allow bacterial poisons to enter the bloodstream and irritate the blood vessels and/or enhance the chances that small blood clots will form and clog your arteries. Another possibility is that the inflammation caused by periodontitis may release chemicals into your blood that contribute to the buildup of fatty deposits inside your heart arteries.

For some time it’s been known that people who smoke, are elderly, or have other health problems that affect the immune system, are at increased risk for developing respiratory diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). These problems can be fatal. Bacterial respiratory infections can be acquired by the inhalation of tiny bacteria-filled droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. Periodontal diseases, which are chronic bacterial infections, maybe a major factor in the development of bacteria that are found in fluid droplets in the lungs. Once the bacteria are in the lower respiratory tract, they multiply causing infections or worsening existing lung conditions.

Pregnant women who experience periodontal disease progression during their pregnancies may be twice as likely to develop preeclampsia as a complication of pregnancy. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. It can put you and your baby at risk for severe complications. In addition to preeclampsia, periodontitis can trigger increased levels of biological fluids which can induce preterm labor. In fact, pregnant women who have periodontitis may be up to seven times more likely to have a baby who is born too early and too small. Several early studies have found that treating periodontitis during pregnancy may significantly reduce the risks of preterm birth. Preventing gum problems from developing during the stresses of pregnancy also appears to be important in improving the health of both the mother and baby.

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