Over the past few years, we have heard more and more about the link between oral infections, such as periodontal disease or chronically abscessed teeth, and major systemic health problems. As such, increasing evidence suggests a strong correlation between poor oral hygiene and the lack of regular dental treatment, with the exacerbation of serious medical conditions like diabetes mellitus, low birth weight, heart disease and bacterial pneumonia. Never before has our society recognized the importance of high quality dental care in the prevention of not only tooth loss and function, but also quality of life and life span.
Periodontal disease, known also as periodontitis, is an inflammation of the tissues supporting the teeth, including the bone, periodontal ligament, tooth root and gum tissues. The inflammation is caused by bacteria found in plaque, a white filmy substance that builds on our teeth daily. Long term untreated periodontal disease can a have devastating outcome on the teeth caused by loss of the supporting bone, resulting in infection flare-ups and eventually loss of all the teeth. Once this bone is gone, it may then not be possible to replace the natural teeth with dental implants, as implants require sufficient jaw bone. Sadly, often the final and only solution is complete dentures.
If losing teeth was not sufficient motivation for individuals to be screened and/or treated for periodontal disease, now we can add death to the equation. There is now strong data, evidenced by numerous studies, that untreated periodontal disease can cause or worsen potentially life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and others. Oral infections will introduce dangerous bacteria into our body’s bloodstream. This bacteria then travels the body causing additional inflammation in various areas of the body, and may settle and begin to rapidly replicate. The bacteria also produce a plethora of harmful exotoxins which essentially poison the body.
Modern treatments for periodontal disease are not painful or outrageously expensive. Perhaps the most important component to the arrest of periodontal disease is the patient’s own commitment to get healthier. If patients undergo treatment and practice good regular oral hygiene, in most cases further destruction of the bone supporting the teeth can be prevented. Typical treatments include deep cleanings, oral medications and mouthwashes. More advanced cases of periodontal disease may require gum surgery or bone grafting. With proper treatment and maintenance the patient’s overall health and life span can also be maintained.