thesundaytimes – July 29 2007
Need a good reason to floss? Research shows that unhealthy gums can lead to strokes and even cancer
GUSTAVQ Rodriguez had expected numerous physical exams and blood tests before checking into the hospital last year for a long-awaited kidney transplant. But he was bewildered when he was told to see a dentist.
“My gums were really bad, but I didn’t know that mattered,” says Mr Rodriguez, 26, of Long Beach, California. “They said I had to be bacteria-free before my surgery. I learnt a lot… like every little thing in your body counts.”
And as doctors and dentists now suspect, gum disease is no lit- tie thing.
“For years the mouth was never considered a part of the body,” says Dr Salomon Amar, a periodentist at Boston University. Gum disease was not considered something that could have any impact.
But recently- a study published in New England Journal of Medicine found “that treating severe gum disease can improve the “function of blood vessel walls. improving heart health.
And in last April’s issue of Journal of Periodontology, two studies found Periodontal bacteria (bugs normally found in inflamed gums) in the arteries of people with heart disease and in the placentas of pregnant women with high blood pressure.
Gum problems begin when the bacteria in plaque, the sticky film that forms on teeth, persists long enough to inflame the gums.
Usually, inflammation is considered a positive response to bacteria — a sign that the body is fighting back. But if inflammation rages unchecked, it does more harm than good. Other than bleeding, gum disease has few symptoms and rarely causes much discomfort. “The gums do not hurt until it is too late,”
Dr Amar says.
Well before the gums or teeth start to hurt, the dual forces of infection and inflammation in the mouth appear to hitch a ride in the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body, wreaking havoc once there.
One-of the most well-established links between gum disease and secondary infection, for example, is among people with mitral heart defects. Doctors have long warned valve patients to take antibiotics before teeth cleanings so that the bacterial disruption in mouth will not travel through the bloodstream to infect the valve.
The other theory of how gum disease inflicts damage elsewhere in the body involves inflammation. Bacteria in plaque release toxins that cause the immune system to produce chemicals called cytokines.
In excess, cytokines can increase inflammation and damage tissues throughout the body. Inflammation in general (no matter how it starts) is now considered a Prime culprit in the development of many illnesses, including heart disease and some types of cancer.
“The key in gum disease is chronic inflammation,” says Preston D.Miler Jr., president of the American of Academy of Periodontology. “when it becomes chrome, it begins to release substances that tissue.”
Doctors at the University of Southern California have also connected a common virus, cytomegalovirus. to gum disease and complications in kidney transplantation.
Studies show that people with severe gum disease have significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
Besides influencing blood vessel walls, byproduct from the bacterial infection the bloodstream and trigger livers release of a substance C-reactive protein, studies suggested. C-reactive protect thought to inflame arteries and mote blood clot formation.
Intriguing links can drawn between gum disease abetes. Diabetics tend to be more severe gum disease and it at an earlier age than without diabetes, research. Having gum disease increase amount of time a diabetic’s sugar remains high. But diabetic who receive good periodontal ligament have a better response betes therapies.
ST Fl WARNING: SIDE EFFECTS OF GUM DISEASE
RESEARCH compiled over the last five years suggests that gum disease — especially if it persists for long without treatment — can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, pregnancy complications, and perhaps even Alzheimer disease, osteoporosis and some types of cancers.
Infections in the mouth also may increase the risk to people undergoing several types of surgery.