Studies indicate that gum disease and several systemic diseases are related. It was originally thought that the link was bacteria, but later research shows that inflammation could be the link, leading scientists to believe that treating inflammation might help dentists and patients manage both periodontal disease and other systemic diseases.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Research suggests that gum disease increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and scientists have theorized as to the connection between them. One theory is that the gum inflammation resulting from the oral disease causes an increase in white blood cells and highly sensitive C-reactive proteins, which have been previously associated with heart disease. Another theory is that some of the bacterial strains present with periodontal disease may enter the bloodstream and latch onto fatty plaques in the coronary arteries, contributing to the formation of clots.
There are several ways in which science has linked gum disease and diabetes. One connection is related to the blood vessels in diabetics thickening and preventing the exchange of nutrients and waste removal. Leftover waste in the mouth could weaken the resistance of gum tissue, leading to infection and periodontal disease. Increased blood sugar is another link. While high sugar levels in the mouth feed the bacteria that worsen gum disease, the oral disease also elevates blood sugar levels, making it hard for diabetics to manage both conditions. Additionally, diabetics are more susceptible to infection, increasing their risk of developing gum disease.
Research is ongoing into the link between gum disease and osteoporosis, but it indicates that the decrease in bone density resulting from osteoporosis could reduce the support that the jaw bone provides for teeth, leading to tooth loss. Additionally, the inflammation from gum disease weakens the bones, which is why the disease typically progresses in osteoporosis patients.
There is plenty of evidence to support the bacterial link between the periodontal and respiratory diseases. The type of bacteria that causes gum disease can be aspirated into the lower respiratory tract. This may lead to pneumonia, and conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may worsen. The bacteria could also cause irritation and contribute to inflammation in the lining of the lungs, limiting the passage of air. Additionally, respiratory disease patients have weak immune systems, which might mean that their bodies don’t fight the infection of bacteria in the mouth, resulting in the progression of periodontal disease.