Monday, June 19, 2006

Dental Disease

Regular Flossing Protects More Than Teeth and Gums Researchers recently determined that periodontal disease can exacerbate health problems in distant areas of the body. The normal human mouth harbors 400 species of bacteria, causing gingivitis and localized bleeding, which eventually lead to periodontitis.

About 14% of all American adults have advanced periodontitis, putting them at risk of losing their teeth, and most adults aged 60 who have lost teeth may attribute this tooth loss to periodontal disease. While periodontal disease is thought of as an older person's affliction, as many as one-half of high school students have some form of gingivitis!

Teeth are not the only structures endangered by periodontal disease. A century ago, a treatment for arthritic joints was to have one's teeth extracted.
Infections in the oral tissues are easily released into the bloodstream. According to Dr. Robert Genco, editor of the Journal of Periodontology and professor of oral biology at the State University of New York at Buffalo, "patients think of gum disease in terms of their teeth, but they don't think about the fact that gum disease is a serious infection that can release bacteria into the bloodstream." He continues, "The end results could mean additional health risks for patients whose health is already affected by other diseases, or lead to serious complications such as heart disease."

Specific Diseases Linked to Periodontal Disease

Heart attack and stroke - Patients with periodontal disease are one and one-half to two times as likely to suffer a fatal heart attack and nearly three times as likely to suffer a stroke as those without periodontal disease. This association with heart disease is especially evident in patients under 50.

Bacterial infection and diabetes - It has been well established that diabetes predisposes patients to bacterial infections, including those affecting the oral cavity. Recent studies provide strong indications that periodontitis can make diabetes worse. Diabetics with severe periodontitis have greater difficulty maintaining normal blood-sugar levels. Treatment of periodontitis often leads to a reduced need for insulin.Dental researchers now recommend that periodontal inflammation must be treated and eliminated in all diabetic patients, especially because this treatment may significantly reduce the risk of injury to the retina and arteries, which are also common consequences of diabetes.

Pneumonia and other respiratory diseases - Pneumonia occurs when bacteria dwelling in the oral cavity and throat are inhaled into the lungs where immune system defenses fail to fight them. Some bacteria that cause pneumonia thrive in infected oral tissues of patients with periodontal disease.

Premature birth - There is increasing evidence that infections of the mouth have a direct link to inducing premature labor. Periodontal bacteria stimulates the release of labor inducing substances such as prostaglandin. In one study researchers found that mothers of prematurely born babies were seven times more likely to have advanced periodontal disease as mothers whose babies were born at normal weight, even though no mothers in the study were otherwise at risk of having a premature baby. Researchers concluded that what is needed is a study determining whether treatment of periodontal disease in pregnant women can reduce the risk of premature birth.

Other infections - Patients with artificial heart valves and joints are at increased risk of suffering a serious infection when periodontal bacteria enter the bloodstream. In patients with artificial heart valves, the infection can be fatal unless promptly and aggressively treated with antibiotics.
Source: The National Association of Dental Assistants .900 South Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046 (703) 237-8616

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