Dental Health as a Predictor of Overall Health?
We can't help it - we're passionate about dentistry! And we can't ever resist stressing how much oral health can impact your overall health. So, here are some of the potential connections scientist have found between the two:
1) Alzheimer's Disease
This one is a correlational study where researchers found that seniors with Alzheimer's Disease (AD) had poorer oral hygiene than seniors without. Read about that here. It's important to note that this could go either way: it could be that people with poorer oral health have a greater likelihood of Alzheimer's. It could also mean that people with AD have a greater chance of neglecting their dental health. Since it's a correlational study, we could also be looking at two unrelated factors that just happen to coincide.
In a literature review of 22 research papers, a similar conclusion was reached: there could be a link between periodontal disease and dementia (AD being a form of dementia) - but the strength and causation of the connection is unknown.
2) Cardiovascular Disease
It's possible that periodontal disease may also be related to incidences of heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease. In a meta-analysis of studies (from the1980's to the present day), analyses suggest that individuals with periodontal disease have a 19% increased chance of future heart disease(s) and that this risk is greater in people over the age of 65.
So, similar to the connection between Alzheimer's and Oral Health, there could actually be no relationship at all in this case as well. It's also possible that the bacteria living in the oral mucosa can travel to other areas in the body, cause inflammation and damage blood vessels. Another hypothesis is that chronic inflammation in the body is causing everything - the damage in the blood vessels as well as the inflammation in periodontal disease - aka gingivitis (the word, gingivitis can be broken down to "gingiva" referring to the gums and the suffix "itis" meaning inflammation).
3) Rheumatoid Arthritis
Linking back to the previous point, where chronic inflammation may be the root of it all, check this study out, which looked at the relationship between arthritis, gum disease and coronary artery disease. Spoiler alert: it could be chronic inflammation after all leading to the onset of these three medical issues.
Good news is: in terms of taking care of your teeth - you always have the control. If you have gingivitis, up your game in the oral hygiene department immediately:
Brush more thoroughly (notice how we did NOT say "more aggressively"! Because that can lead to damaged enamel and gum tissue)
Floss daily, so you make sure to get any buggers sitting below the gum line and in between your teeth and
Come for more frequent professional hygiene visits (You may very likely benefit from a Oral Hygiene Instruction appointment as well - to make sure your technique is effective enough to control the perio disease).
Yes, that sounded like a shameless plug (sigh - we're guilty), but hear us out: If you control and/or reduce the amount of bacteria living/festering in your oral tissues, you'll reduce inflammation. If you reduce inflammation, it'll definitely decrease the likelihood of your periodontal disease progressing to the point where you lose your teeth and it'll potentially decrease the chances of these other, systemic health problems like cardiovascular complications. Doesn't it sound like you can only benefit from improving your oral health?
We hear it all too often that dental visits can be postponed and that it's no big deal. But if you look at the research on how impactful dental health may be on your systemic health, you may want to rethink the next time you want to defer an appointment to a later time!
For a five-page summary of some more connections between oral health and diseases, we dug up this article from 2002 by the Canadian Dental Association - well worth the read!