For years, mainstream dentistry scoffed at the idea of focal infection – the idea that infection in one part of the body can affect other organs or systems. For years, it treated teeth as though they were almost separate from the body that housed them. Dentists acted as though anything that happened in the mouth couldn’t possibly impact the rest of the body.
Time and science have proven otherwise, and in recent years, things seem to have come full circle. Research continues to prove the relationships between periodontal disease and a host of other chronic, inflammatory conditions. These include heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic kidney disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Repeatedly, scientists have found oral bacteria in the heart, joints, brain or other affected areas of the body.
This raises an interesting question: Could you treat those systemic diseases by treating the gum disease?
In some cases, maybe so, according to a study published last year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Analyzing insurance claims data from nearly 339,000 individuals with both medical and dental coverage. Each had been diagnosed with at least one of 5 conditions: type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, cerebral vascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy. Each showed evidence of periodontal disease.
It turned out that those who received treatment for the gum disease had fewer hospitalizations and lower medical payments related to 4 of those 5 conditions. Only the arthritis group showed no treatment effect.
The authors’ conclusion?
simple, noninvasive periodontal therapy may improve health outcomes in pregnancy and other systemic conditions.
More recently, a study in Oral Health & Preventive Dentistry showed that non-surgical periodontal therapy (scaling and root planing, or “deep cleaning”) may play a role in glucose control.
For this study, 220 subjects were split into two groups – those with chronic periodontitis and those with healthy gums – and their levels of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) were measured. Those in the periodontitis group then received 2 to 4 deep cleaning sessions and were given hygiene instructions.
Three months later, all subjects were tested for HbA1c again. Those in the test group showed significant reductions in HbA1c.
Furthermore, with improvement of periodontal status, the glycaemic levels return to near normal values.
Though the subjects of this study were non-diabetic, the findings suggest hope for those with metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, and possibly even full blown type 2 diabetes.
They also serve as an important reminder that going to the dentist is about more than just preventing cavities or fixing damaged teeth or making cosmetic improvements.
It’s about taking care of your total health.
Image by Dozenist, via Wikimedia Commons