DISCLOSURE: Noelle Copeland RDH is the oral care specialist and dental consultant to the Brilliant and Baby Buddy oral care lines through Compac Industries. See terms below
Poor oral care can ultimately lead to innumerable problems. Those problems don’t always stay stationary to your mouth either. Did you know that when your oral health is poor, not only can it cause disease and irreversible damage in the mouth, it can also have a negative affect on your overall health
The connection between oral health and systemic health is intricate and they affect one another directly and indirectly. Bacteria in the mouth can enter the systemic circulatory system and cause disease or complicate immunocompromised persons already dealing with a disease or medical illness.
Cardiovascular disease happens in the arteries, where fatty plaques are deposited and build up in the wall of the artery, resulting in narrowing and eventually blockage of blood flow. This can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, angina, organ damage, and transient ischemic attacks to name a few.
Active periodontal disease overlaps cardiovascular risks by means of inflammatory cytokines and antibodies produced in response to disease. Arteries have been measured and clinical findings have revealed that the plaques within the walls of a blocked or diseased artery have been found to contain up to 95% bacteria, and of that percentage of bacteria, anywhere between 30-50% contained periodontal pathogens. That means the pathogenic bacteria in our mouths are ending up in our arteries. Our body sends out antibodies to fight those periodontal pathogens, so if those pathogens are within the walls of the arteries, they will cause inflammation and can have an impact on overall health.
We aren't exactly sure how or why these pathogens get there, but because the oral environment produces plaques and build up in response to overall oral health, the assumption remains that if that bacteria travels throughout the circulatory system, it will eventually attach to other plaques that have built up in other parts of the body.
Additionally, the evidence and studies are not conclusive in how these two diseases directly and indirectly affect one another and how to best treat that. Does treating periodontal disease lower your cardiovascular risk? Maybe, they are not sure so the American Heart Association won't make a formal declaration. Does periodontal disease cause cardiovascular disease? No, but we do know that the presence of periodontal disease makes treating cardiovascular disease and the periodontal disease much more difficult.
So what can you do?
It’s estimated that diabetes affects over 30 million Americans, and worldwide over 400 million people. Those numbers are staggering to me! Evidence throughout the world suggests that having diabetes in any capacity, increases your risk of developing periodontal disease. Inflammation plays a major connection piece between diabetes and periodontal disease. Inflammation is a known cause of insulin resistance. Chronic periodontal disease can, therefore, increase insulin resistance and worsen glycemic control when it is left untreated and allowed to progress because it causes significant inflammation in the mouth.
People with diabetes are also more prone to infections, overall, but especially in the mouth, and even more so when their blood sugar is not controlled. Glucose is present in the saliva and when glucose is high in the saliva, it will contribute to the proliferation of harmful oral bacteria. Just like a diet that's high in sugar can cause oral disease, when the body's glucose pathways are malfunctioning, the result can be the same, disease progression and systemic inflammation. Inflammation in the mouth from gingivitis or periodontal disease can lessen the body's capability to control blood sugar, which increases complications as oral health declines and systemic health falters.
In essence, diabetes can cause oral disease and oral disease can make treating diabetes more difficult and challenging.
So what can you do?
There is evidence linking severe periodontal disease, with the increased risk of delivering a preterm, low birth weight baby. Presently, 12% of US pregnancies are complicated by preterm birth, meaning birth happens before 37 weeks of gestation. Low birth weight refers to babies that weigh less than 5 lbs 8 oz., and small gestational age refers to a baby measuring less than the 10th percentile.
In pregnancy, active periodontal disease has been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm delivery, preeclampsia, and low birth weight. This prevalence is highest for women who have limited access to care and low socioeconomic status. The exact linking for these adverse outcomes is not fully understood yet.
The current consensus is that pathogenic oral bacteria travel throughout the body, via the bloodstream, and can negatively affect other parts of the body, including crossing the placenta during pregnancy.
These microorganisms cause inflammation in the oral environment, and can potentially cause inflammation in other parts of the body, leading to the potential for adverse pregnancy outcomes. Inflammatory markers scale higher in those with periodontal disease and are exasperated by any other condition that lowers the immune system or challenges it on a daily basis.
Although the science isn't settled, it holds great weight to educate how oral health and systemic health are intricately connected, how systemic health and access to care are woven together, and how low socioeconomic status leads to poorer healthcare outcomes.
So what can you do to prevent periodontal disease before you get pregnant? In summation, if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant:
It stands to be said that in addition to the importance of educating and instilling excellent oral hygiene for expectant moms, that oral care for babies and toddlers should start early, before the first tooth ever erupts. If an expectant mom is struggling with severe periodontal disease due to poor oral hygiene habits and limited access to care, then the likelihood that her baby will face this same fate is tenfold.
If this is your circumstance I applaud your willingness to learn and educate yourself on caring for your own oral health and implore you to start your baby’s oral care from the very beginning. If you already have a baby or toddler that does not have a regular oral care routine, it's never too late to start. Seek professional help if you have challenges or struggle with performing a routine for your child. You can always email me directly and I will help in any way I can while you navigate this season. Noelle@compacind.com
In conclusion, the repeating factor for all health maintains the foundation of preventative principles. It is much easier to do more now to prevent, than having to do more later to treat. It usually costs a lot less too. Prevent periodontal disease by having an excellent homecare routine, and getting regular professional dental care. If you cannot get professional dental care on your own talk to your local medicaid office and see what options might be available to you.
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