Oral-systemic health is the connection between oral health and overall health. Countless studies have demonstrated a link between poor oral health and systemic diseases such as:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Heart attack/heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Some types of cancers
- Pregnancy complications
The mouth is the entryway to the entire body. Bacteria introduced to the oral cavity should not be allowed to breed and spread to the rest of the body, however, the most common symptom of periodontal disease, bleeding gums, allows this to happen. When open wounds on the gums bleed, bacteria present in the mouth are transported to other parts of the body through normal blood circulation. This makes periodontal disease one of the most concerning oral conditions that contribute to decreases in overall health.
The associations between periodontal disease and systemic diseases are well known. Periodontal disease is an inflammatory disease process resulting from the interaction between bacterial attack and the host inflammatory response. Periodontal disease has been shown to result in inflammation in parts of the body beyond the oral cavity. It is this inflammation and the causative periodontal pathogenic bacteria that have been implicated as contributing factors, in a multitude of systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, hypertension, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy complications, and a variety of cancers. Research is ongoing to determine the exact mechanisms interconnecting systemic diseases to periodontal disease and the strength of the various interconnections.
One especially well researched connection is between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Studies show that CVD results from a triple whammy known as the atherosclerotic triad. (Atherosclerosis is plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.) A landmark BaleDoneen study was the first to show that bacterial villains found in the mouth can intensify each component of the arterial disease-inducing triad, creating a perfect storm of harmful effects, as follows:
• People with periodontal disease (PD) have up to twice as much small, dense LDL cholesterol (the most dangerous kind) in their blood as those with healthy gums, according to a recent study. The size of cholesterol particles matters: Some are big and buoyant, so they tend to bounce off vessel walls, while others are small and dense, making it easier for them to penetrate the arterial lining. Think of the difference between beach balls and bullets.
• Chemicals produced by high-risk oral bacteria make the walls of the artery more permeable, so it’s easier for bad cholesterol to invade. Since, due to these pathogenic bacteria, people with PD also have higher blood concentrations of small, dense LDL cholesterol, and other disease-causing lipoproteins, this creates a one-two punch on the arteries, much like a gang assault on a house with broken windows or doors.
• Substances produced by high-risk bacteria can also make the inner layers of the arterial wall (where plaque forms) stickier, much like Velcro, so bad cholesterol is more likely to get trapped there and create plaque deposits, resulting in a triple threat to arterial health.
If you are concerned that conditions in or around your mouth may be affecting your overall health, you should consult with Dr. Robinson. He and his team are highly trained in delivering oral-systemically informed healthcare.