Is there a connection between periodontal infections and your general health?
It would appear that this may be true. Many studies in recent years have shown an association between untreated periodontal disease (gum disease) and a higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes. An association means that this was a statistical finding that was noticed after the study was completed but was not the initial focus of the study, so it does not prove or validate a cause and effect relationship.
According to a report in the August 2014 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, treating gum disease is associated with lower health care cost for other conditions. Researchers analyzed the dental and health insurance records of about 340,000 people. They observed that among people with certain medical conditions, those who got treatment for gum disease went on to have lower medical costs and fewer hospitalizations in a four year period, compared with people who did not get treatment.
In this same study, among people with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease who had treatment for gum disease, health care costs were as much as 40% lower than in those that didn’t get treatment.
As recently as August of 2017, the New York Times reported on a study that showed that periodontal disease in older women is associated with an increased risk of some cancers. This study followed 65,000 women, average age 68. Gum disease was associated with an overall 14% increased risk of cancer and a 12% increase even in women who never smoked.
Why this is true is not exactly clear. One of the best explanations is that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease get into our circulatory system and create inflammation there like they do around our teeth. The proof for this is that the bacteria that cause gum disease are found when scientists examine the arterial plaques (not to be confused with dental plaque) that have caused heart attacks and strokes.
It is possible that a definitive study may never be done. This is because it would not be ethical to tell a group of people to forgo dental treatment for years so that we could compare their systemic health to a group who did receive regular cleanings and treatment of any gum infection.
So what should you do? I like to call this a win-win situation. Treating and preventing gum disease will help you keep your teeth for a lifetime and if it helps prevent heart attacks and strokes and cancer, all the better. What do you have to lose (except your teeth)?