Dental Health and Medical Conditions – Six Serious Medical Consequences of Poor Oral Health

All too often news reports quote some recent study that has identified another food, habit, exposure, or activity that will cause a medical problem leading to an early demise. I generally don’t worry about newly announced threats because I choose a healthy lifestyle of moderation in all things.

Then I heard that even though I feel no symptoms, my mouth could be quietly attacking many areas of my body with deadly germ warfare. This alarmed me because it does make sense that whatever we swallow will have an effect on the health of our bodily systems, so I did a little internet research of my own.

It all begins with gingivitis (early gum disease), which left untreated advances to periodontitis. According to The American Association of Periodontists, an estimated 35 percent of the population age 30 and over has periodontitis, yet many people do not even realize they have it. Periodontal disease is often silent, meaning symptoms may not appear until an advanced stage of the disease.

Periodontal disease may be silent but it can be deadly, having far more serious health ramifications than the tooth loss we’ve heard about before. It has now been shown that bacteria from dental gum disease can travel to other parts of the body and cause serious health concerns such as:

1. Heart Disease

Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease. Studies indicate that periodontal disease may foster the development of clogged arteries and blood clots when oral bacteria get into the blood stream. Periodontal disease also has been known to exacerbate existing heart conditions.

2. Stroke

Additional studies have pointed to a relationship between periodontal disease and stroke. These studies reported that inflammatory effects from periodontal disease could cause oral bacterial byproducts to enter the bloodstream and trigger the liver to make proteins that inflame arteries. These effects may cause blood clots that contribute to clogged arteries leading to strokes.

3. Respiratory Infections

Bacterial respiratory infections are thought to be acquired through aspiration (inhaling) of fine droplets from the mouth and throat into the lungs. These droplets contain germs that can breed and multiply within the lungs to cause pneumonia and lung damage.

Aspirating periodontal bacteria is especially threatening to people who suffer from the serious chronic respiratory condition known as COPD. Periodontal bacteria can increase frequency of COPD bouts of infection.

4. Diabetes

Diabetes has long been known to increase the risk of infections, including severe periodontal disease. A study done in 1999 suggests that the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is a true vicious cycle – periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar.

Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts diabetics at increased risk for diabetic complications.

5. Infertility Treatment Failure

The relationship between periodontal diseases, infertility treatment and reproduction success also appear to go both ways.

Researchers found that women undergoing ovulation induction for infertility treatment for more than three cycles experience higher gingival inflammation, bleeding and gingival crevicular fluid (GCF). These effects are linked to increased levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones.

Not only can the treatment cause gum disease, several studies provide evidence that the presence of gum infection is associated with unsuccessful embryo development and implantation failure in in-vitro fertilization patients.

On a hopeful note, if dental plaque was first removed and then kept at low levels during the infertility treatment, gingival inflammation would be less likely to affect success. Fastidious oral hygiene and routine professional cleanings, likely at the beginning of each cycle would be necessary to ensure healthy gums during treatment.

6. Premature Birth

All infections are cause for concern among pregnant women because they pose a risk to the health of the baby. Research shows also that pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small.

More research is needed to confirm exactly how periodontal disease may affect the pregnancy terms. It appears that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Furthermore, data suggests that women whose periodontal condition worsens during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby.