Oral Systemic Connection

This section is dedicated to the latest information on oral health topics, culled from authoritative sources such as the American Dental Association.

Click here for the latest news from the American Dental Association.


Heart Disease

Poor dental hygiene can cause a host of problems outside your mouth-including your heart. Medical research has uncovered a definitive link between heart disease and certain kinds of oral infections such as periodontal disease. Some have even suggested that gum disease may be as dangerous as or more dangerous than other factors such as tobacco use. A condition called chronic periodontitis, or persistent gum disease, has been linked to cardiovascular problems by medical researchers.

In short, infections and harmful bacteria in your mouth can spread through the bloodstream to your liver, which produces harmful proteins that can lead to systemic cardiac problems. That's why it is critical to practice good oral hygiene to keep infections at bay-this includes a daily regimen of brushing, flossing and rinsing.


Antibiotic Prophylaxis

In some cases, patients with compromised immune systems or who fear an infection from a dental procedure may take antibiotics before visiting the dentist.

It is possible for bacteria from your mouth to enter your bloodstream during a dental procedure in which tissues are cut or bleeding occurs. A healthy immune system will normally fight such bacteria before they result in an infection. However, certain cardiovascular conditions in patients with weakened hearts could be at risk for an infection or heart muscle inflammation (bacterial endocarditis) resulting from a dental procedure.

Patients with heart conditions (including weakened heart valves) are strongly advised to inform our office before undergoing any dental procedure. The proper antibiotic will prevent any unnecessary complications.


Dentistry Health Care That Works: Tobacco

The American Dental Association has long been a leader in the battle against tobacco-related disease, working to educate the public about the dangers inherent in tobacco use and encouraging dentists to help their patients break the cycle of addiction. The Association has continually strengthened and updated its tobacco policies as new scientific information has become available.

Smoking and Implants

Recent studies have shown that there is a direct link between oral tissue and bones loss and smoking. Tooth loss and edentulism are more common in smokers than in non-smokers. In addition, people who smoke are more likely to develop severe periodontal disease.

The formation of deep mucosal pockets with inflammation of the peri-implant mucosa around dental implants is called peri-implantitis. Smokers treated with dental implants have a greater risk of developing peri-implantitis. This condition can lead to increased resorption of peri-implant bone. If left untreated, peri-implantitis can lead to implant failure. In a recent international study, smokers showed a higher score in bleeding index with greater peri-implant pocket depth and radiographically discernible bone resorption around the implant, particularly in the maxilla.

Many studies have shown that smoking can lead to higher rates of dental implant failure. In general, smoking cessation usually leads to improved periodontal health and a patient’s chance for successful implant acceptance.


External Links

Gum disease can affect your heart and body.

Maintaining good oral health has many rewards: A sparkling smile, fresh breath, and healthy gums. But recent scientific evidence suggests that it may have an even greater benefit to your overall health: Specifically, it could potentially reduce your risk for a number of systemic (whole-body) diseases, including cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis — even premature birth.

Periodontal (gum) disease is estimated to affect nearly half of all Americans, and is the major cause of adult tooth loss. Numerous studies have shown that patients with severe periodontal disease are at increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Periodontitis may also increase the chance that diabetes will develop or progress, and research suggests an association between gum disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes as well.

Inflammation: Friend and Foe

Gum inflammation.What's the link between diseases of the mouth — like gum disease — and those of the body? They are connected by the body's natural reaction to harmful stimuli, which we call the inflammatory response. Often characterized by pain, redness and swelling, inflammation is a process by which your immune system responds to damage or disease in your tissues. Inflammation can help the body heal — or, if it becomes chronic, it can lead to more serious problems.

Gum disease (periodontitis), CVD, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are all associated with the same type of inflammatory response. Studies have found that moderate to severe periodontitis tends to increase the level of systemic inflammation — a condition that may smolder in the background, awaiting the right conditions to flare into a more serious disease. It has also been shown that the same strains of bacteria that are found in inflamed gum tissue may also appear in the arterial plaques of individuals suffering from CVD.

How Does It Work?

While there is intriguing evidence of a link between gum disease and other systemic diseases, further studies will be needed to prove whether one causes the other. At present, however, several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how the connection works. One suggestion is that oral bacteria themselves may enter the bloodstream, form into clumps, and trigger systemic inflammation. The inflammatory response can cause swelling of cells and tissues, which narrow the arteries and increase the risk of blood clots.

Another possibility is that byproducts of oral bacteria released into the bloodstream could trigger the production of substances called CRPs (C-reactive proteins) in the liver. These proteins tend to inflame blood vessels and promote the formation of clots, possibly leading to clogged arteries, heart disease and stroke. Elevated CRP levels, according to some studies, are a stronger predictor of heart attack than cholesterol levels.

What You Can Do

Since chronic inflammation is a systemic problem, the best way to begin controlling it is via a whole-body approach. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting moderate exercise (and, if you use tobacco, quitting the habit) will help with this. So will bringing untreated inflammatory diseases, such as periodontitis, under control.

There are a number of effective treatments for periodontal disease, including nonsurgical procedures such as root cleaning and the local application of antimicrobials. For more serious conditions, conventional or laser gum surgery is an option. Finally, to keep your gums healthy between office visits, you need to develop an effective oral hygiene routine you can practice at home.

Although it's too early to say that periodontal disease causes heart disease or other systemic conditions, they seem to have a connection. And while medicine and dentistry can't change genetics, together we can control external factors like excess weight, tobacco use… and gum disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene is the best way to avoid periodontal problems. But if problems occur, don't wait: The sooner you have treatment, the better your chances for controlling gum disease — and perhaps systemic diseases too.

Related Articles

Heart and Gum Disease - Dear Doctor Magazine

The Link Between Heart & Gum Diseases Inflammation has emerged as a factor that is involved in the process of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), which commonly results in heart attacks and strokes. While the precise role inflammation plays in causing chronic CVD remains an area of intense current investigation, much more is now known... Read Article

Diabetes - Dear Doctor Magazine

Diabetes & Periodontal Disease Diabetes and periodontal disease are chronic inflammatory diseases that impact the health of millions of people. What you may not know is that diabetes and periodontal disease can adversely affect each other... Read Article