There is a distinct relationship between gum disease and cardiovascular disease. The health of your gums is a predictor of heart disease. As a result, medical doctors and dentists are making changes to improve their patients’ overall health.
For many years, the medical and dental communities were separated. The physician tended to focus on the areas of the body while the dentist treated teeth. That was the old approach. Today, because of further research, collaboration and sharing of knowledge, healthcare providers are better armed to collaborate for the empowerment our patients.
Despite the importance of specialized care, the body is not divided into arbitrary compartments. The body is interconnected, interrelated and one area depends on the other for proper functioning.
The oral cavity serves as the gateway to the entire body. Periodontal disease destroys the bone supporting the teeth and is estimated to be present in approximately 50 percent of the entire adult population with severe disease seen in 15 to 20 percent of the population. For many years dentists have recommended brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque to control the onset of gum disease. Bacterial accumulation is required to initiate the gum-disease process. Today, we now recognize that gum disease is a chronic inflammation.
A chronic disease means it cannot be prevented by vaccines or cured by medication, nor do they just disappear. They usually become progressively worse over time and tend to be painless until there is a major crisis. Common examples include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, stroke and periodontal disease.
Firstly, inflammation in general is the response of the body to bacterial, viral infections or other assaults on the body. Almost instantly, the body responds to such assaults with an acute inflammation. The signs of acute inflammation are heat (fever), swelling, redness, pain and loss of function. Acute inflammation causes the white bold cells to travel to the site of the assault to begin the protection and healing process. Many cells will then surround and kill the offending bacteria, viruses or other agents. Unfortunately, these cells also kill host cells. The body then heals by producing new cells. This is the cycle of an acute inflammatory process. This is exactly how our body is supposed to function.
Chronic inflammation is a slow constant inflammatory irritant which happens in the absence of a sudden infection or trauma. Chronic inflammation occurs as a result of longer-term assaults like obesity, eating fast foods, smoking, drinking alcohol in excess, refined foods, allergens, toxins and other agents. Chronic inflammation is believed to be at the center of all chronic diseases.
So, what is the difference between acute and chronic infections? One important difference is that in chronic diseases the causes and progress of the inflammations are usually controlled by the patient’s choices and behaviors. Genetics, to some degree also play a role.
Periodontal disease is caused by dental plaque. Once the plaque builds up the disease process begins. The problem gets worse causing a chronic inflammatory process in the body. Here is where it gets interesting. The initial inflammation caused by gum disease trigger chronic inflammation in other parts of the body such as the heart. Remember as stated earlier, the body is deliberately interconnected.
Medical literature reports an increased risk of heart disease in those patients who have periodontal disease confirming it to be a predictor of heart disease. Also, the opposite relationship exists – heart disease is a risk factor for gum disease and early tooth loss.
Gum disease has also been shown to be a risk factor for strokes as well as other forms of cerebrovascular diseases.
So, at the heart of matter, gum health is a predictor of heart health. See a dentist and ask them to check your gums. Remember, since gum disease is a chronic inflammation pain is not common, the best approach is to be proactive and take action. It can save your life.
• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.