Health Risks of Gum Disease
Periodontal Disease Linked to Pre-term, Low Birth Weight Babies?
For a long time we’ve known that risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, and drug use contribute to mothers having babies that are born prematurely at a low birth weight. Pre-term births are more likely to result in serious medical conditions for the child, including intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding of the brain), cerebral palsy, retardation, or at worst, death. Research has now revealed a new risk factor—periodontal disease. Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small. More research is needed to confirm how periodontal disease may affect pregnancy outcomes. It appears that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of biological chemicals called prostaglandins that induce labor. Furthermore, data suggests that women whose periodontal condition worsens during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby. All infections are cause for concern among pregnant women because they pose a risk to the health of the baby. It is recommended that women considering pregnancy have a periodontal evaluation.
Periodontal Disease Linked to Heart Disease and Stroke
Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease. Furthermore, the risk of stroke is 2½ times as high in people with periodontal infections. Several theories exist to explain the link between periodontal disease and heart disease. One theory is that oral bacteria enter the bloodstream through swollen gum tissues and attach to fatty plaques in the coronary arteries (heart blood vessels), contributing to clot formation and thickening of the walls of the blood vessels. Over time this build up can obstruct normal blood flow and restrict the amount of nutrients and oxygen required for the heart to function properly, resulting in a heart attack. Another possibility is that the inflammation caused by periodontal disease increases plaque build up, which contributes to hardening of the arteries.
Diabetes and Periodontal Disease
People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than
people without diabetes because diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered the sixth complication of diabetes. Those people who don’t have their diabetes under control are especially at risk. A study in the November 1999 issue of the Journal of Periodontology found that poorly controlled type 2 diabetic patients are more likely to develop periodontal disease than well-controlled diabetics are. Research has revealed that the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes goes both ways—periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar. Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar, contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts diabetics at increased risk for diabetic complications. Thus, diabetics who have periodontal disease should be treated to eliminate the periodontal infection. This recommendation is supported by a study reported in the Journal of Periodontology in 1997, which found that when periodontal infections were treated, the management of diabetes markedly improved.
Periodontal Disease Linked to Respiratory Diseases
Scientists have found that bacteria that grow in the oral cavity can be aspirated into the lung to cause respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, especially in people with periodontal disease. People with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are at an increased risk of lung infections due to the bacteria found in periodontal infections.