Health Matters: Several Chronic Health Conditions Have Ties to Poor Oral Care
May 22, 2022
During a routine dental exam, the health of your gums and teeth is checked. Calculus (dental tartar that is simply hardened plaque) is professionally removed from your teeth, especially near the gum line, to lower the risk of gum disease and tooth decay. X-rays can also spot fractures in the tooth and signs of decay before they become a major problem.
While an exam and cleaning usually don’t take much longer than half an hour, many adults don’t see a dentist regularly. In fact, the CDC estimates that 27% of U.S. adults haven’t seen a dentist in a year or longer. Two out of three older adults haven’t been to the dentist in over a year. This is concerning as many chronic health conditions are believed to have ties to poor dental care and gum disease.
Studies Showing Links Between Chronic Health Issues and Poor Oral Care
It’s estimated that 700 to 800 different types of bacteria live within the mouth. It’s these bacteria that are often believed to play a role in the connection between poor oral health and prevalent chronic health conditions.
Scientists with the National Institute on Aging analyzed 26 years’ worth of health records for 6,000 adults to look for a correlation between oral health and dementia. What they found was that adults with gum disease and oral infections had higher incidences of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The study specifically found that people with gum disease and Alzheimer’s often had antibodies against P. gingivalis, often present in oral infections. Additional studies are ongoing to see if treating this type of bacteria reduces the risk.
The Indian Society of Periodontology published a report between poor oral health and increased cancer risk. Some cancers have been found to be tied to viral or bacterial infections and carcinogens. This leads researchers to find links between inflammatory proteins and enzymes with certain types of cancer.
One of those studies found that poor oral health may play a part in acute monoblastic leukemia. Cancers of the mouth and throat were evaluated to look at a link between tooth loss and those cancers. One of the best-known studies looked at oral health and pancreatic cancer.
In a U.S. study, 48,375 participants were studied for almost 18 years. Their oral health was recorded, habits like smoking were also recorded, and then every two years, they were seen again for updated health reports. At the end of the study, factors like smoking were considered. Those with poor oral health were more likely to have cancers of the blood, kidneys, lungs, or pancreas.
Studies find that people with diabetes often have higher levels of proteins like cytokines in the saliva. Cytokines control activity and growth in blood cells and immune system cells. That helps with the body’s inflammatory response. Too many can increase inflammation within the body.
What’s been found in research is that an excess of cytokines and similar proteins can damage the ligaments around teeth and lead to tooth loss. Plus, diabetics have higher levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Gum disease has been found to raise blood sugar levels, which is detrimental to someone trying to control blood sugar levels.
The calculus or tartar that builds up on your teeth is hardened dental plaque. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria, though it’s not the same plaque that’s made up of calcium and fat that builds up in your arteries. While the term plaque is used in both conditions, they are different and not believed to link gum disease to plaque in the arteries.
Inflammation links gum disease to heart disease. When too many immune cells attack what the body sees as invaders, inflammation in all areas of the body occur. This inflammation can lead to the hardening of the arteries, which ties to heart disease.
Respiratory disease and gum disease can be two-way issues. If you have gum disease, the bacteria can get into your lungs and spread infection. If you have lung disease, you’re already experiencing inflammation, which also increases inflammation in other areas of the body.
Plus, lung disease may have you taking medications or using inhalers that cause dry mouth. The lack of saliva makes it harder for the mouth to naturally flush away foods when you eat them, which increases bacteria and the risk of inflammation and gum disease.
You can’t stop using your inhaler if you have asthma. What you can do is make sure you’re brushing and flossing after each meal and seeing a dentist regularly. Ask your dentist about products designed for dry mouth.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis where the body’s immune system attacks tissue within the joints. It’s believed that the same immune response happens causing inflammation in the gums, leading to tooth loss due to the weakening and loss of the alveolar bone in the jaw.
In 2012, a study found that almost seven out of ten rheumatoid arthritis patients also experienced gum disease. The study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis were 4x more likely to develop severe gum disease.
During the 2020 American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference, the results of a two-year study revealed that people with gum disease have a 2x greater risk of having a stroke. The link is believed to be due to inflammation that leads to hardened arteries and blockages. Other things were announced during this conference.
One was that people who had gum disease and had a stroke were three times more likely to have a stroke in the back of the brain where vision and coordination controls are located. Gum disease was also more prevalent in stroke patients where the blockage occurred within the brain rather than outside the skull and traveled into it.
What to Expect During a Dental Cleaning
What happens during a dental cleaning? Much of it comes down to the technology your dentist has. A dental hygienist will take panoramic x-rays of the mouth to check the health of the teeth and jawbone. Individual close-up pictures of the teeth are also possible.
After the x-rays, the hygienist gets to work removing calculus from each tooth and measuring the gums. These hard patches of tartar may be removed using metal dental tools or ultrasonic waves and powerful water pressure. Following this, the teeth are polished and flossed.
Once the cleaning is completed, the dentist comes in to examine the teeth. You’ll discuss any need for follow-up care due to cavities and other oral care issues. If you do have cavities that need a filling or a cracked tooth that needs repair, a follow-up appointment is scheduled.
Has it been a while since your last dental exam and cleaning? Do you need to find a dentist who won’t judge and offers ways to ease dental anxiety? Contact Jody Jones DDS and ask about sedation dentistry that eases the anxiety that keeps you from seeking dental care. We’ll work with you through your fears as you get caught up on dental visits. Schedule an appointment today.