Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is a low-grade bacterial infection of the gum, supporting tissues and surrounding bone which act as the foundation of the teeth. As a result of this chronic, slow progressing and painless infection, the supporting tissues that hold the teeth in place will be gradually damaged without any specific and noticeable signs.
Some research studies have shown that Asians are particularly susceptible to periodontal diseases. Such high prevalence in Asians appears in retrospect to have originated from early epidemiological studies using an index system which gives weight to gingivitis and moderate periodontitis resulting from poor oral hygiene and calculus deposition, very commonly encountered in Asian populations.
Due to the nature of prolonged, steady and lack of nuisance destruction of the supporting tooth structure besides bad breath, bleeding on the gums while flossing or brushing, or without any sign at all, most of the patients elect to ignore the consequences of periodontal disease. However, it has become clear that oral health is intimately inter-related with systemic health since the mouth is vitally connected to the rest of the body.
There is increasing evidence that individuals with periodontal disease may be at increased risk for adverse medical outcomes. From the studies of DeStefano et al, men and women, 25 to 74 years old, with periodontitis had a 46% increased risk of mortality from all other systemic diseases and illnesses.
According to many measurements around the world, heart disease is still the number one cause of death. Researchers have found that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease-the most common form of heart disease. Bacteria from the oral cavity can enter the bloodstream easily. They will attach the fatty plaque in the coronary arteries and accelerate blood clot, which in turn will thicken the arterial walls due to the build up of fatty proteins. It will obstruct blood flow and may lead to heart attacks. It can cause inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels as well. Also, the increased blood clotting can damage the lining of the blood vessels. All these events can lead to an increased risk of stroke, which is characterized by either bleeding in the brain because of a ruptured vessel or impaired blood flow to a part of the brain when a vessel is blocked by a clot.
Periodontal disease probably does not directly cause diabetes, but it can make managing the disease much more difficult. The bacterial infection casused by periodontal disease diminishes the body’s ability to manage its insulin levels, greatly upsetting a diabetic’s blood sugar levels. This can result in complications such as blindness, heart problems and kidney dieases.
Respiratory infections by bacteria can be aspired from the mouth and throat into the lungs. Research shows that individuals with periodontal disease can incubate bacteria in the oral cavity. At the same time, the bacteria can be aspired into the lung to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Also, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) cause persistent obstruction of the airways. Inspired bacteria can cause increased frequency of patients with COPD.
Adverse Pregnancy Outcome:
Although it may seem improbable, infection in the gums of a pregnant woman may lead to a more than sevenfold increase in her risk of delivering a premature baby of low birth weight, according to findings published in The Journal of Periodontology. The study suggests that untreated periodontal disease may account for a large share of premature births for which no other explanation can be found. Studies have shown that severe gum infections trigger the production of prostaglandin and tumor necrosis factor, chemicals which are known to induce labor pain, thus risking preterm birth.
A new research from Harvard Medical School indicated that periodontal disease can significantly increase the risk of getting pancreatic cancer by64%. Patients with periodontal disease have higher levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker that might somehow promote pancreatic cancer, another major cause of death in modern human history.
Periodontal disease is an easily preventable disease. There are many precautions you can take to prevent periodontal disease, which will in turn lower your risk of developing other systemic diseases. Oral hygiene is the simplest way to prevent periodontal disease. In addition to brushing at least twice a day, flossing is very important. It removes plaque, bacteria and food particles from between teeth and along the gum line. In addition to daily brushing, dentists and periodontists highly recommend daily flossing and biannual dental cleanings as the top two ways to prevent periodontal disease.
Once periodontal disease has developed, working with a periodontist, dentist and doctor is imperative. It is difficult to undo the later stage effects of periodontal disease, including destroyed connective tissue and loss of jaw bone mass. The earlier the disease is caught, the better the outcome and potential to rebuild the gums and connectivity of the teeth to gum and bone.
Also, the further periodontal disease develops, the more inflammation is present in the body, which increases the risk of developing or exacerbating other diseases.