15 Aug Inflammation: Connecting the Mouth and Body?
Research suggests chronic inflammation links gum disease to other disease states.
Brush after every meal. Floss daily. See your dental professional regularly. These instructions make sense coming from your dentist to help you sustain your oral health. But now not only dentists, but also many physicians are stressing
the importance of maintaining oral health in an effort to keep the rest of the body healthy.
Research has long suggested an association between gum disease and other health issues—
including heart disease, stroke and diabetes—but now scientists are beginning to shift their
focus to understanding why these connections exist. An emerging theory, and one gaining
support from researchers worldwide, is that inflammation may link the mouth to the body.
Inflammation is the body’s instinctive reaction to fight off infection, guard against injury or
shield against irritation. Inflammation is often characterized by swelling, redness, heat and
pain around the affected area. While inflammation initially intends to heal the body, over
time, chronic inflammation can lead to dysfunction of the infected tissues, and therefore
more severe health complications.
According to Dr. Susan Karabin, Past President of the American Academy of Periodontology
(AAP) and a practicing periodontist in New York City, periodontal disease is a textbook
example of an inflammatory disorder: “For many years, dental professionals believed that
gum disease was solely the result of a bacterial infection caused by a build-up of plaque
between the teeth and under the gums. While plaque accumulation is still a factor in the
development and progression of gum disease, researchers now suspect that the more
severe symptoms, namely swollen, bleeding gums; recession around the gum line, and loss
of the bone that holds the teeth in place, may be caused by the chronic inflammatory
response to the bacterial infection, rather than the bacteria itself.”
Periodontists, the dentists specially trained in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of
gum disease, hypothesize that this inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth may be
the cause behind the periodontal-systemic health link. Many of the diseases associated with
periodontal disease are also considered to be systemic inflammatory disorders, including
cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease and even
certain forms of cancer, suggesting that inflammation itself may be the basis for the
“More research is needed to pinpoint the precise biological mechanisms responsible for the
relationship between gum disease and other disease states,” says Dr. Karabin. “However,
previous findings have indicated that gum disease sufferers are at a higher risk for other
diseases, making it more critical than ever to maintain periodontal health in order to
achieve overall health.”
To avoid gum disease, Dr. Karabin recommends comprehensive daily oral care, including
regular brushing and flossing, and routine visits to the dentist. If gum disease develops, a
consultation with a dental professional, such as a periodontist, can lead to effective
treatment. Patients diagnosed with gum disease should also disclose all health conditions to
his or her dental professional, and be sure to update other health care professionals on his
or her periodontal health.
A recent supplement to the Journal of Periodontology highlighted current discussions
between dental professionals and health care professionals on the role of oral inflammation
in the progression of other disease states. As research continues to emerge that supports
the mouth-body connection, the more vital it becomes that both dentists and physicians
work together to ensure the most comprehensive wellbeing for their patients.