While it might seem like the links between gum disease and other inflammatory conditions is something that’s only been recently discovered, some of them have been known for many decades. Researchers were talking about the oral/heart health relationship way back in the 1960s. The initial findings on the gum disease/diabetes link date back even further than that.
More recent research has confirmed this aspect of the mouth/body connection. It’s also shed more light on how oral health impacts systemic health, confirming the concept of focal infection that perhaps gained the most attention following Dr. Weston Price’s research on root canal teeth in the early 20th century.
But in many cases, one question in particular persists: Can treating gum disease actually improve the various systemic health problems it’s been linked to – or lower the risk of developing those systemic problems?
This was the focus of a review and meta-analysis that was published last year in the Journal of Applied Oral Science and explored the impact of periodontal therapy on glycemic control and inflammation in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Searching the MEDLINE and Cochrane databases for all relevant research up to July 2018, the research team identified 9 studies that met their criteria. All were randomized clinical trials that looked at the effect of scaling and root planing – the standard non-surgical treatment of gum disease – on HbA1C and CRP (C-reactive protein) levels. The former is a familiar measure of glycemic control, while the latter is a common measure of chronic inflammation.
Each study compared the periodontal treatment group to a control group that received no periodontal treatment. And overall, they showed that, indeed, there were significant reductions of HbA1c and CRP levels in those who got standard periodontal therapy.
The present systematic review with its two meta-analyses indicates that conventional periodontal treatment can improve metabolic control and reduce systemic inflammation in patients with [type 2 diabetes] by reducing serum levels of HbA1c and CRP, respectively. The results of the metabolic control achieved by treatment and the reduction of systemic inflammation are consistent with the results of other systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
But unlike those earlier reviews, this one looked at the effect of both outcomes at the same time, not as independent outcomes.
[Scaling and root planing] has an impact on metabolic control and reduction of systemic inflammation of patients with [type 2 diabetes]. Periodontal treatment could constitute an innovative therapeutic approach as a public health measure to reduce complications and improve the cardiovascular health of patients with [type 2 diabetes].
Now consider the potential impact of including key non-dental therapies with the standard treatment. For instance, the dietary changes that are recommended to help prevent or improve gum disease are sympatico with those recommended to control blood sugar and reduce inflammation.
Similarly, the exercise, stress management, and good sleep hygiene that have been found essential to good gum health have likewise been shown to improve both glycemic control and inflammation. Might we expect even more improvement with those thrown into the mix, as well?
Best of all, there’s no downside to making those lifestyle changes – only upside, orally and systemically.