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Your Oral Health and Systemic Health Are Linked

Research indicates that gum disease (periodontitis) is not just a localized infection. It also is associated with inflammatory illness elsewhere in the body.

Our mouths are teeming with bacteria. When the gums and teeth are compromised, the bacteria, as well as viruses, gain entry into the bloodstream, travelling to other systems of the body. Maintaining your oral health will help maintain your overall health and can even improve it.

To control oral bacteria, reduce periodontal inflammation, and prevent dental cavities and gum infection, we recommend regular dental checkups (twice a year), professional teeth cleanings (at least twice a year), and treatment of any present oral disease conditions. Even if you are routinely flossing and brushing your teeth, professional teeth cleanings are needed to remove dental plaque buildup from the teeth, including below the gum line.

Keep in mind that if dental or gum disease are left untreated, they will advance. They are progressive diseases that don’t “just go away.” These diseases spread inflammation and have been tied to numerous systemic inflammatory diseases, in addition to causing oral pain and tooth loss.

If you have gingivitis (gum inflammation) or periodontitis (gum infection that can damage the soft tissue and destroy the bone that supports your teeth), Dr. Stephen Malone, Dr. Michael J. Costa, Jr., and our registered dental hygienists will confer and recommend the frequency of clinical cleanings you need. They will also recommend therapeutic treatment to improve your circumstances.

As you read below, you will see that you play an important role in this process, and there are ample reasons for you to want to keep periodontal bacteria under control.

The Connection Between Oral Health and Overall Health

Inflammation is the result of our immune system protecting our bodies from further harm when we are injured or come in contact with a virus or bacteria. The swelling and tenderness we experience is due to white blood cells rushing to the site of the injury or contact. When the inflammation is unchecked or chronic, it can damage tissues and bones, sometimes leading to tooth loss. Moreover, chronic inflammation can lead to dangerous and even life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune diseases, head and neck cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the American Dental Association states “well-designed clinical trials are needed to establish whether a cause-and-effect relationship exists and to determine if, or how, treating gum disease may affect overall health,” recent studies have concluded that inflammation is a hallmark response to bacteria in the bloodstream and that inflammation is not only connected to both oral and systemic diseases, but it is also a link between oral and systemic diseases.1-13

The Greatest Threat—Sugar and Carbonated Beverages

Research reveals that consuming sugary foods and carbonated beverages destroys tooth enamel, as well as increases the risk of gum disease. And, the tooth sensitivity and bleeding gums characteristic of poor oral health can lower nutritional status because individuals with gum disease and eroded tooth enamel have a tendency to avoid certain fresh foods that are rich in nutrients. Often, they replace fresh, unprocessed foods with nutritional shakes high in sugar, and this advances the oral health problem.

Studies have also linked diets high in convenience foods with inflammation inside the body,14-15 and Inflammation is among the top five reasons for many degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

In addition to regular dental exams, cleanings, and recommended treatment to control bacteria and periodontal inflammation, you can reduce inflammation in the mouth and your entire body by changing your diet to fresh, whole foods and eliminating sugar, carbonated beverages, and other acidic beverages such as sports drinks.16

Your Systemic Wellbeing

Although we are focused on your oral health at Knoxville Smiles, we care about you as a person and we want you to have the best overall health possible. Health is more than the absence of illness. The various systems of the body need to be balanced and optimally functioning. Achieving this requires regular exercise, eating nutritious foods, getting enough rest, good hygiene, limiting alcohol consumption, eliminating use of tobacco products, seeking appropriate healthcare, and then doing your part to comply with health provider instructions to prevent and treat disease. In addition, your genetic makeup, environmental and life stresses, and emotional state have an effect upon your physical wellbeing.

In order for us to help you achieve best health, please inform us of any present systemic condition (such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease). Also tell us about all of the medications and nutritional supplements you are taking. Don’t be surprised if we converse about dietary habits.

Your oral health is part of your overall physiological system and affected by many factors. Our doctors are experts in oral health and its interrelationship with all of your body’s systems, including the digestive, renal, hepatic, pulmonary, cardiovascular, muscle-skeletal, nervous, and neurological systems. He and his team also strive to be empathetic and will seek to understand your health concerns and goals, answer all questions, and recommend treatment and behavior that is in your best interest.

  1. Azarpazhoo A, Leake JA. Systemic review of association between respiratory diseases and oral health. J Periodontol. 2006; 77(9): 1465-1482.
  2. Demmer RT, Desvarieux M. Periodontal infections and cardiovascular disease: The heart of the matter. JADA October 2006;137(Supplement 2):14S-20S. Accessed September 20, 2011. (PDF)
  3. Michaud DS, et al. A prospective study of periodontal disease and pancreatic cancer in US male health professionals. J. Natl Cancer Inst. 2007(99): 171–175.
  4. Mealey BL. Periodontal disease and diabetes: A two-way street. JADA October 2006;137(Supplement 2):26S-31S. Accessed September 26, 2011. (PDF)
  5. Nesse W, Dijkstra PU, Abbas F, et al. Increased prevalence of cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases in periodontitis patients: a cross-sectional study. J Periodontol 2010;81(11):1622-8. PubMed. Accessed September 26, 2011.
  6. Pihlstrom BL, Michalowicz BS, Johnson NW. Periodontist and diabetes: a two-way relationshio. Lancet. 2005(366): 1809–1820.
  7. Preshaw PM, Bissett SM. Periodontitis: oral complication of diabetes. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2013; 42(4): 849-67.
  8. Seo WH, Cho ER, et al. The association between periodontitis and obstructive sleep apnea: a preliminary study. J Periodontal Res. 2013; 48(4): 500-506.
  9. Shanthi V, Vanka A, et al. Association of pregnant women periodontal status to preterm and low-birth weight babies: A systemic and evidence-based review. Dent Res J. 2012; 9(4): 368-380.
  10. Taylor GW, Bidirectional interrelationships between diabetes and periodontal diseases: an epidemiologic perspective. Annal Periodontol. 2001; 6(1): 99-112.
  11. Tezel M, Scannapieco FA, et al. Local inflammation and human papillomavirus status of head and neck cancers. JAMA. 2012; 138(7).
  12. Watts A, Crimmins EM, et al. Inflammaton as a potential mediator for the association between periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2008; 4(5): 865–876.
  13. Zoellner H. Dental infection and vascular disease. Semin Thromb Hemost 2011;37(3):181-92. PubMed. Accessed September 26, 2011.
  14. Pia, GW. Oral health and nutrition. Primary Care, 1994(1):121-33.
  15. Ritchie, Christine et al. Nutrition, inflammation, and periodontal disease. Nutrition and Oral Health, 2003(19): 475-476.
  16. Munoz C, Kiger R, et al. Effects of a nutritional supplement on periodontal status. Compendium, May 2001: 425-438.