Oral-Systemic Health Issues


Periodontal disease is significant because
it leads to the loss of teeth and tooth-supporting bone. It is pandemic, with some 75% of adults worldwide
affected by the disease to some extent. However, its true significance lies in its
ability to cause life-threatening illness. Studies reported in the international medical
and dental literature have documented heart disease, heart attacks, poor circulation in
the extremities, diabetes, stroke, and pregnancy complications – all of which have been attributed
to periodontal disease. There are at least two mechanisms by which
this is believed to occur, and the two are probably related. The first occurs when bacteria gain access
to the body’s circulatory system through leaky blood vessels, like those that are present
in chronically inflamed gums. Certain species of bacteria have been shown
to cause formation of branched proteins in blood vessel walls – which may trap fatty
plaques, and clot-producing cells known as platelets. Essentially, this process narrows the diameter
of blood vessels to the point where oxygen-carrying red blood cells, immune cells, and other elements
necessary to keep downstream tissues healthy can no longer get through. The second mechanism is activated through
the presence of long-standing inflammation somewhere in the body, including chronically
inflamed gingiva. In response to chronic inflammation, the liver
and cells that line blood vessels produce a substance known as C-Reactive Protein or
“CRP.” When CRP levels exceed three milligrams per
liter of blood, a person is at elevated risk for developing cardiovascular disease. This is because C-Reactive Protein promotes
blood clot formation, instability of fatty plaques in the arteries, which may break free
and travel through the circulation to the heart or brain; and swelling of blood vessel
walls – all of which reduces the flow of blood through the vessels. Diabetics, whose blood tends to be thicker,
or more viscous, than normal, are at increased risk for problems related to the small blood
vessels. Elements in cigarette smoke also cause a narrowing
of the small blood vessels. Consequently, smoking and diabetes – combined
with long-standing periodontal disease – compounds a patient’s risk of systemic health problems. If you’ve been diagnosed with periodontal
disease, it’s important to have it treated and monitored for signs of progression, to
minimize your risk factors for life-threatening illness. It’s no exaggeration to say that making a
priority of good oral health may well save your life.

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