Prevention is the best medicine, especially when it comes to gum disease, which affects nearly all adults. For it’s not just a matter of keeping your teeth in your mouth – untreated periodontal disease ultimately means tooth loss – but also supporting your whole body health, as well.
With research consistently linking gum disease with systemic health problems also marked by chronic inflammation, it can be hard to keep up. The past few months alone have brought us new reviews of the science that case even more light on this important aspect of the mouth/body connection.
One of the newest is a review of the evidence linking gum disease with high blood pressure, which was just published in Cardiovascular Research. Screening thousands of studies conducted in 26 countries, the researchers found 81 studies that met their criteria, about half of which were included in their meta-analysis – a type of study used to assess the results of earlier research.
Based on the quantitative analyses of all studies included, patients with moderate to severe periodontitis [advanced gum disease] have greater (20%) odds of having hypertension [high blood pressure] when compared to patients without periodontitis.
And the more severe the gum disease, “the higher the likelihood (49%) of having hypertension.” The higher risk was there even when patients didn’t have other traditional risk factors such as smoking and obesity.
There was also some suggestion that periodontal treatment could help reduce hypertension – just as earlier research has suggested dental treatment may lessen symptoms of other inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis.
Another meta-analysis, published last fall in Vascular Health and Risk Management, looked at the evidence connecting stroke with periodontal health. Here, researchers screened nearly 2200 studies before honing in on 10 that met their criteria for relevance and rigor.
They found evidence suggesting that when gums become inflamed and bleed, this leads to changes in how blood and oxygen flow to the brain, doubling the stroke risk when compared to individuals with healthy gums.
This may affect the progression of other diseases, as well, they note.
Obesity is yet another condition consistently linked with periodontal disease, and this was the focus of a review just published in the BDJ, which analyzed more than a dozen studies on how body weight may affect gum disease risk.
This systematic review suggests that overweight, obesity, weight gain, and increased waist circumference may be risk factors for development of periodontitis or worsening of periodontal measures.
The relationship was “more consistent” with abdominal obesity than simple BMI – perhaps because important inflammatory mediators are generated by this fat.
“Periodontal disease,” says study co-author Andres Pinto of Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine, “occurs in patients more susceptible to inflammation – who are also more susceptible to obesity.”
But both – like hypertension, stroke, and other inflammatory conditions – are largely preventable. And that’s the good news here. The steps you take toward preventing or reversing gum disease also help reduce your risk of these other problems. We’re talking diet and exercise, along with improved oral hygiene and perio treatment when the disease is advanced.
The message is clear. Whether you’re currently managing a disease of inflammation or whether you’re symptom-free, taking charge of your periodontal health now continues to be vital when it comes to maintaining or improving your overall health.