A systemic disease refers to a disorder that afflicts the whole body as opposed to a single part, organ, or system. Some systemic diseases and conditions, like the flu or other viruses, may be temporary. In other cases, a systemic disease can become chronic or affect an individual for a prolonged period of time. That’s often the case for conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Our bodies are composed of complex systems that work together to help us function. Unfortunately, common systemic diseases disrupt the natural flow of these systems. If you suffer from a systemic disease, it can negatively affect multiple systems, structures, and organs within your body, including your teeth, gums, and surrounding bone and tissue.
The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) as well as the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) and numerous other health organizations have long pointed to a link between a person’s overall health and their oral health, particularly with regards to systemic diseases. The link and subsequent risk can be significant for both short and long-term systemic diseases and conditions, including but not limited to the following:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Respiratory Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Heart Disease
These conditions may increase your risk of periodontal disease, but they aren’t the only factors that can increase your risk. If you do suffer from a systemic disease, treatment and symptom management can also play a role in elevating your risk for periodontal disorders.
Numerous over the counter and prescription medications may lead to problems with your oral health. This includes common chemotherapy drugs, antihistamines, blood pressure medications (e.g., ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics), pain relievers, and even antidepressants which may trigger gum disease and other periodontal conditions. This is particularly true of any medication that causes dry mouth (xerostomia), which can increase the presence of oral bacteria, inflammation, calculus (tartar) buildup, tooth decay, dental erosion and ulcerations.
Today, many health experts believe that the relationship between oral health and systemic disease isn’t one-directional. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, research suggests that poor oral health and gum disease may increase the risk or rate of progression for life-altering diseases.
The medical community has yet to identify a definitive causal relationship between periodontal disease and systemic conditions, but research is convincing. And, though research to date covers a wide range of conditions and implications, many experts point to a common thread: inflammation.
According to research published in Frontiers in Physiology (Paul, Aroa, Mayer, & Chatterjee, 2021), some bacteria-caused instances of inflammation commonly associated with periodontal disease can lead to “systemic inflammation and eventually cardiovascular disease.” Similar bidirectional links between other conditions, including diabetes, have been identified.
A research analysis published in Scientific Reports (Stöhr, Barbaresko, Neuenschwander & Schlesinger, 2021), indicates that those suffering from periodontitis were at an elevated risk (26%) for developing diabetes mellitus.
Cardiovascular disease and diabetes aren’t the only potential reciprocal systemic diseases that may be linked to periodontal disease. A growing body of research also suggests that patients with gum disease may also be at an increased risk for strokes, dementia, and even problems during pregnancy. Other bodies of research, including a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, show a relationship between periodontitis and certain types of cancer. Specifically, patients that suffered from severe periodontitis had an elevated relative risk of cancer, with lung cancer and colorectal cancer topping the risk chart.
Though researchers are still trying to determine whether periodontal disease has a relative or causal relationship with systemic disease, the overarching message is clear. There is a link between periodontal disease and conditions that affect other parts of the body and problems with your teeth, gums, and surrounding bones and tissue. The impact of poor oral health is not limited to your mouth. Your oral health can serve as a window into overall wellness, and patients who suffer from either periodontal disease or systemic conditions should discuss treatment options or preventative care with their doctors.
Periodontal disease is common, with recent CDC reports suggesting that nearly half of all adults (30 years old or older) experience some form of this condition. The risk of occurrence increases significantly with age. According to the same report, seven out of ten adults over 65 suffer from periodontal disease.
Though the root cause of periodontal disease may not always be evident, there are several signs and symptoms that can help you determine if you’re at risk or currently suffering from this condition. If you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, you should speak with your dentist or set up an appointment with a periodontist as soon as possible:
- Swollen or red gums
- Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth that isn’t resolved by regular brushing and flossing
- Sensitive teeth
- Gums that are tender and/or bleeding
- Loose teeth
- Gum recession
- Shifting teeth or changes in your bite
- Changes in the way implants or dentures fit or feel in your mouth
Oral health is often overlooked, but if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, it’s imperative that you address the issue as soon as possible. Doing so can help you prevent long-term damage, slow the progression of periodontal disease, and potentially decrease the risk of systemic diseases believed to be associated with oral health conditions.
Outward symptoms aren’t the only reason you should book an appointment, though. If you currently have a systemic condition, like diabetes, kidney disease, or cardiovascular disease, preventative oral care should be a regular part of your overall treatment approach.
Both general dentists and periodontal specialists are trained to assess oral health, but there are significant training differences between the two. Regular trips to the general dentist are a great way to maintain your oral health, undergo routine cleanings, and seek treatment for common tooth and gum issues, like cavities, crowns, and root canals. Your dentist may also be able to identify and treat early-stage gum disease.
Periodontists are trained as dentists but also undergo an additional 3 years of postdoctoral training that focuses on the evaluation and treatment of defects of the tooth root, gum tissue, and supporting bone structure. As such, periodontists are highly skilled in diagnosing, treating, and even preventing serious periodontal conditions, including chronic inflammation, gum disease, and infections in the jaw bone. And since systemic diseases are so closely linked to periodontal disease, periodontists are well trained in helping patients who suffer from oral issues related to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.
Dr. Bonacci D.M.D. and his team specialize in identifying, treating, and controlling the progression of periodontal disease. If you’re suffering from or are at risk for a systemic disease, it’s important you meet with a periodontist as soon as possible.
Together, the experts at Bonacci Periodontics & Dental Implants can help you take control of your oral and overall health. Schedule your consultation today.