When I first began noticing that my older patients who were in excellent health had “gums of a 16 year-old,” I knew that oral health and overall health were connected. In many cases, an individual’s oral health was a direct reflection on their overall health and wellbeing.
Then I started getting into the research behind this connection, which showed a significant relationship between periodontal disease and health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and pre-term births.
When we think of periodontal disease from a traditional perspective, it’s hard to understand how deep pockets, abscesses, and loose teeth might impact heart health—except perhaps that a person who doesn’t take care of his or her teeth is less likely to take care of him- or herself in general.
But when we look at the root cause of periodontal disease—pathogens—the oral-systemic connection becomes clearer.
Periodontal disease doesn’t crawl up through your nose into your brain. Periodontal disease does not sneak across the placental barrier and cause pregnancy complications. Heart disease is not periodontal disease located in your chest. Oral is systemic because of pathogens.
- It appears up to 50% of heart attacks are triggered by oral pathogens.
- gingivalis turns white blood cells into carriers.
- Six oral spirochetes appear to be causal of Alzheimer’s
- gingivalis, an oral bacterium, raises risk for a heart attack by 13.6 times when present—that’s twice the risk of a heavy smoker!
- Periodontal disease is as big a risk as high blood pressure for strokes.
- Addressing visual and microbial periodontal disease slows if not reverses CIMT progression.
What the research is finding is not that periodontal disease causes systemic disease. It’s that the pathogens that cause periodontal disease may also contribute to systemic disease.
That’s why people with periodontal disease are more likely to have other health problems.
That’s why the traditional view of periodontal disease is limited.
That’s why oral is systemic.