Approximately fifteen years ago, several studies showed an association between gum disease and heart disease. Today, a month doesn't go by without one or more studies showing a positive relationship between gum disease and any number of other health problems. Research studies have shown strong associations between periodontal disease and diabetes, heart disease, strokes, respiratory disease, osteoporosis, and even possible pregnancy complications. Not only have some of the bacteria found in the periodontal pockets (which we know can enter into your blood stream) possibly create some of these other problems, but the fact that periodontal disease is a disease of chronic inflammation is also a matter of real concern. In the not too distant past, much of the research regarding heart disease has revolved around inflammation versus such factors as stress and high cholesterol. In fact, at least one study has shown inflammation in the body was more important in determining the risk of having a heart attack than the level of cholesterol. Eliminating periodontal disease will not only save your teeth, but it could reduce the chances of developing other serious illnesses.

Diabetes

People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes. In fact, periodontal disease is often considered the sixth complication of diabetics. Those people who don't have their diabetes under control are especially at risk. One study showed that poorly controlled Type II diabetic patients were more likely to develop periodontal disease than well controlled diabetics. Furthermore, research has emerged that suggests that the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes goes both ways, that is, periodontal disease may make it more difficult for people who have diabetes to control their blood sugar, but conversely, people with diabetes have more difficulty in maintaining their periodontal health.

Severe periodontal disease can increase blood sugar contributing to increased periods of time when the body functions with a high blood sugar. This puts the diabetic at increased risk for complications, and thus, diabetics that have periodontal disease should be treated for this disease to eliminate the periodontal infection.

Heart Disease

It is clear that inflammation is linked to heart disease and that one of the body's most common source of inflammation is periodontal disease. Does poor oral health contribute to heart disease risk? Although the jury is still out while scientists investigate this link, the following information will help you understand the role of inflammation in atherosclerosis, the clogging of the arteries surrounding the heart with plaque. Research has established inflammation's key role in atherosclerosis. This process, the same one that causes infected cuts to become swollen, hot, and painful, underlies everything from the creation of plaques in our arteries to their growth and rupture. Typically, inflammation fights infection. But with atherosclerosis, inflammation proves harmful. Our own defenses bombard us with friendly fire, just as they do in Lupus and other autoimmune disorders. This revised picture resolves two disturbing mysteries: Why many heart attacks strike without warning and why preventive therapies sometimes fail. It also highlights the need for better prevention, detection, and treatment.

Research suggests that there may be links between periodontal disease and heart disease. Animal studies in particular provide provocative evidence that certain biologic pathways might allow one disease to influence the other. Periodontal bacteria are found in the plaque deposits that narrow coronary arteries. Inducing periodontal disease in rabbits causes plaque accumulations in their coronary arteries.

Other evidence comes from observation on human studies. A study involving 10,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 74 found that people with periodontal disease were much more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than those without periodontal disease.

Respiratory Disease

It only makes sense that the same bacteria that are found around the teeth, on the root surfaces, and below the gums, would be found in the rest of the mouth. In fact, it then becomes available to be inhaled. Lung cultures have revealed that certain pneumonias can be caused by the same bacteria that are found in dental plaques. When patients are hooked to a ventilator, the risk of pneumonia can increase twenty-fold making it the leading killer of hospital acquired infections. Oral bacteria in dental plaque can attach to the tube and grow on it, eventually making their way down into the lungs. More than a dozen studies have shown that simple measures such as supervised tooth brushing and regular use of antibacterial mouthwashes can reduce by more than half the risk of pneumonia in individuals living in nursing homes or admitted into the hospital.

Osteoporosis

Is bone loss from oral infection associated with osteoporosis? Research on osteoporosis and oral bone loss has shown a fairly consistent relationship. A study in Buffalo linked osteoporosis and periodontal disease causing loss of both oral bone and teeth. This was especially true in women age 70 and older. Because osteoporosis is a systemic disease, it may affect bones in the mouth in a number of ways. Bone loss around teeth may occur independent of oral inflammation. Osteoporosis may lead to more rapid break down of jaw bone when under stress from periodontal bacteria.