Recent studies strengthen link between oral health and disease

The important connection your patients need to be aware of

Caring for your oral health has always been stressed to prevent gum disease and any other mouth-related problems. As dentists, telling patients to brush their teeth and floss twice daily to reduce oral health issues is standard practice. But do patients know enough about the long-term implications of poor oral health?

Most patients are aware that sugar means tooth decay, and that gum disease is caused by poorly caring for your teeth. But your mouth isn’t the only part of your body at risk of suffering due to poor oral health.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows this.

What is poor oral health putting you at risk of?

Over the last 20 years, research has increasingly shown a significant connection between oral health and several more severe conditions including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Heart diseases
  • Strokes

It’s important to let your patients know that their oral hygiene has a wider impact on their general health than they might know, and in fact, affects other parts of their bodies as well.

Educating patients on the connection between oral health and disease is something we can do to help improve both their knowledge and general wellbeing.

Your mouth and brain: where’s the link?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. A progressive disease causing memory loss and deterioration of other mental functions, it’s not something you would assume could be affected by your oral health.

But in 2013, a team of scientists at The University of Central Lancashire were the first to make the crucial connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease. What they discovered was the presence of Porphyromonas gingivalis in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Porphyromonas gingivalis is a bacteria associated with gum disease. It’s connected with chronic periodontal, and is usually found in cavities. It travels into the bloodstream when performing daily activities including eating, chewing, and brushing your teeth.

A fascinating study published in Science Advances may provide the answer as to how this bacteria actually reaches the brain.

After conducting tests on mice, scientists at confirmed that the toxic protein Gingipain that is released from Porphyromonas gingivalis, can travel from the mouth to the brain and destroy brain neurons.

While there is still a lot of research to be done, the findings in these studies are illuminating. In fact just last year, a Taiwanese study showed that patients with chronic periodontitis for a period over 10 years were in fact 70% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

As more researchers are getting involved in oral health and disease, we’re beginning to discover more and more long-term risks and effects.

Unfortunately, poor oral health isn’t a risk factor for Alzheimer’s alone.

Healthy teeth and a healthy heart

The bacteria that infects the gums and causes gum disease has a very specific mode of transport: the bloodstream. This means that the brain is not the only area of the body that can, unfortunately, be affected by its spreading.

In fact, this bacteria can spread anywhere that blood is carried.

Research has discovered that the bacteria Streptococcus sanguis, specifically spread to the heart once entering the body.

How does connect with oral health? This bacteria is linked to Periodontitis – inflammation of the gums. Subsequently, it can cause blood vessel inflammation in the heart, once latching on to any damaged areas.

Cardiovascular conditions can develop from this happening, due to inflammation. According to Mayo Clinic and The American Heart Association, they include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Endocarditis
  • Stroke

Further research has claimed that the more bacteria in your gums, the more your heart will be affected. As a consequence, the bacteria can also cause your carotid arteries to thicken, as found in this study. This increases your likelihood to have a stroke, since it can potentially inhibit blood flowing to your brain.

A holistic approach to your patients’ health and wellbeing

It hasn’t been proven that gum disease and oral health directly causes these other diseases to develop, and there are many other factors involved in completely preventing them.

However, research has shown it to be a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. Seeing these correlations demonstrates just how important it is to look at oral health holistically.

As dentists, it’s important to stress overall health with your patients.

Caring for your patients goes beyond just their oral health. Good oral health plays an important role in their long term systemic health and wellbeing. They might not be aware that their oral health has a large impact on other parts of their body, but you can make more of a positive impact on their lives by changing that.

As research continues to develop our understanding of just how important oral health is for our entire wellbeing, our community are in a better position than ever to be educated.

Inform patients of the warning signs they should be aware of. Let them know that gum disease is treatable but has the potential to further affect their health later on in life if it is not dealt with appropriately. Make sure they are aware of the symptoms of gum disease and make sure they know the value of maintaining good oral health and how that can add to their lives.

Talk to us about how to better engage your patients to achieve better oral health outcomes

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