Although the intraoral detriments of periodontal (gum) disease have long been established throughout the dental and medical communities, recent research has begun to highlight the link between healthy gums and whole-body wellness. The systemic effects of periodontal disease are formidable, increasing risks for cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes, systemic inflammatory responses, Alzheimer’s disease, low birth weight babies, and pre-term deliveries.
Periopathogens, bacteria responsible for periodontal disease, have been found repeatedly in atheroma (unhealthy accumulations of cells within the arterial wall), stents, and blood vessel lining, and appear to be associated with clots and aneurysms that occur. Researchers have reported a link between gum disease and increased risk for atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque in the walls of the arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Still other studies have found a direct correlation between the presence of periopathogens and atherosclerotic plaque formation: In laboratory studies, animals immunized against these pathogens did not develop plaque formations.
The relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes is similarly troubling. Those with diabetes are much more susceptible to periodontal disease, and once periodontal disease is established in a diabetic patient, control of blood sugar levels (glycemic control) is confounded; specifically, the systemic inflammation caused by chronic periodontal infection enhances a patient’s resistance to insulin. While careful blood sugar monitoring can slow the progression of diabetes-related complications, the added systemic strain of periodontal infection may raise the risk of coronary heart disease and accelerate emergence of retiopathy (damage to the retina of the eye), nephropathy (damage to the kidneys), and neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nervous system), among others.
The most recent research of the whole-body effects of periodontal disease has uncovered a potential link between gum infection and Alzheimer’s disease. Upon infection of the gums, periopathogens travel throughout the body, even venturing into the brain. Postmortem examination of brain tissue reveals the presence of periopathogens in the neuronal plaques responsible for the mental degradation characteristic of Alzheimer’s. Although a causal relationship has yet to be established, current evidence points to periodontal disease as a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s rate of progression.
Perhaps most unsettling are the potential consequences of periodontal disease on pregnancy. Beginning the second or third month of pregnancy, approximately 50% of women experience gum inflammation called “pregnancy gingivitis,” a result of the increased amount of progesterone circulating throughout the body. During this phase, gum tissue is more sensitive to the plaque that accumulates on teeth, and the absence of proper oral hygiene may more easily result in chronic periodontal disease. As the mother’s body mounts a defense against this infection, bacteria and their toxins, along with by-products of the local area of inflammation, circulate and may cause inflammation throughout the whole body, ultimately leading to pre-term delivery. Pre-term delivery, in turn, often yields low birth weight babies and a lifetime of serious problems such as asthma, low IQ, cerebral palsy, and poor motor skills.
Although the whole-body consequences of untreated periodontal disease may appear daunting, treatments prescribed by your dentist are available to combat the infection upon diagnosis. Perio Protect, an in-mouth tray facilitating continuous on-site delivery of dentist-prescribed medication, is one such treatment option, available exclusively from Perio Protect certified dentists, including the doctors of SmilesRForever.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Perio Protect system is both painless and easy for patients to use. In addition to treating the common symptoms of periodontal disease (including bleeding, red, or swollen gums), Perio Protect also indirectly fights against the increased risks of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes, systemic inflammatory responses, Alzheimer’s disease, low birth weight babies, and pre-term deliveries that accompany periodontal disease.
As is often the case, prevention is the key to effective treatment of periodontal disease. As a preventative, Perio Protect may also be utilized before the onset of gum disease to eliminate bacteria that may one day cause periodontitis. If prescribed by his or her dentist, a healthy patient may wear the medicated trays for approximately ten minutes once or twice per day, controlling oral bacteria before it can promote disease. Similarly, those utilizing the treatment system to reduce or eliminate fully developed periodontitis may be advised to continue tray usage as a maintenance procedure for newly acquired gum health.
In addition to daily brushing and flossing, twice-yearly dental exams provide a patient’s dentist with the ability to screen for numerous intraoral disorders, including periodontal infection. Additionally, at the earliest development of bleeding, receding, red, or swollen gums, a dental examination should be scheduled immediately.
If you have questions about Perio Protect, additional information is available at www.perioprotect.com. Your SmilesRForever dentist can also explain the whole-body threats of periodontal disease and the efficacy of the Perio Protect treatment system.