While research continues in determining the extent, ongoing studies show a growing relationship between oral health and the rest of the body. Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can act as a catalyst for such problems as heart attack or stroke, or as a byproduct of diabetes.
“Everything in the body is linked,” says Dr. Rashmi Bhatnagar of BellaVista Dental Care in Ahwatukee. “The teeth, the gums, they’re linked to the bloodstream, which is linked to the rest of the body, so the health of the mouth is a seriously important consideration.”
That said, nearly 80 percent of the population lives with periodontal disease. That’s a scary number considering its impact on other important organs like the heart.
“There’s a strong correlation between people who have periodontal disease and those who have had a heart attack, or stroke,” says Bhatnagar.
The link between the mouth and heart is simple. As the buildup of bacteria accumulates in the mouth, it moves through the bloodstream and through other organs. In the case of the heart, the bacteria attaches to vulnerable or damaged areas, in turn creating inflammation and potential infection. Studies from the American Heart Association have also linked stroke and clogged arteries to the inflammation caused by oral bacteria.
In the case of diabetes, periodontal disease actually becomes the byproduct. That’s because diabetes, and autoimmune disease, impacts the body’s ability to fight off infection. As a result, oral bacteria can grow more freely.
“This can really multiply the problem for people with diabetes,” says Bhatnagar. “The body is already in a weakened state trying to fight off the bacteria in the mouth, so when it travels to other areas of the body, they can be more seriously impacted.
“The key takeaway is this – there are all kinds of studies that have proven that an infection in the mouth can impact your entire wellbeing, so be smart about monitoring your oral health.”