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Oral-systemic health issues

Periodontal disease is significant because it leads to the loss of teeth and tooth-supporting bone. However, its true significance lies in its ability to cause life-threatening illness. Heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, poor circulation in the extremities, diabetes, and pregnancy complications – have been attributed to periodontal disease.

There are at least two mechanisms by which this is believed to occur, and the two are probably related.

The first occurs when bacteria gain access to the body's circulatory system through leaky blood vessels, like those that are present in chronically inflamed gums. Certain species of bacteria have been shown to cause formation of branched proteins in blood vessel walls – which may trap fatty plaques, and clot-producing cells. Essentially, this process narrows the diameter of blood vessels to the point where oxygen-carrying red blood cells, immune cells, and other elements necessary to keep downstream tissues healthy can no longer get through.

The second mechanism is activated through the presence of long-standing inflammation somewhere in the body, including chronically inflamed gums. In response to chronic inflammation, the liver and cells that line blood vessels produce a substance known as C-Reactive Protein. When C-Reactive Protein levels exceed three milligrams per liter of blood, a person is at elevated risk for developing cardiovascular disease. This is because C-Reactive Protein promotes blood clot formation, instability of fatty plaques in the arteries, which may break free and travel through the circulation to the heart or brain; and swelling of blood vessel walls – all of which reduces the flow of blood through the vessels.

Diabetics, whose blood tends to be thicker than normal, are at increased risk for problems related to the small blood vessels. Elements in cigarette smoke also cause a narrowing of the small blood vessels. Consequently, smoking and diabetes – combined with long-standing periodontal disease – compounds a patient's risk of systemic health problems.

If you've been diagnosed with periodontal disease, it's important to have it treated and monitored for signs of progression, to minimize your risk factors for life-threatening illness. It's no exaggeration to say that making a priority of good oral health may well save your life.