When you’re sick, you go to a doctor.
But when you have a toothache, you go to the dentist.
We seem to think that the mouth is an independent system of its own — and that it has no real connection to the rest of the body.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and research has been uncovering more and more of this fact over the past several years.
For example, bleeding gums may signal undiagnosed hypertension.
Bacteria can actually travel from your mouth to your brain and may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
And, believe it or not, there’s a link between gum disease and severe outcomes from COVID-19!
Now, a large-scale study has demonstrated just how deep the connection between your oral health and your general health really is.
Gum disease dramatically increases risks for other illnesses
A University of Birmingham study has shown that persons with a medically documented history of periodontal (gum) disease are far more likely to develop mental health issues, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers examined the medical records of 64,379 patients whose doctors had recorded a history of periodontal disease.
Of these, 60,995 had gingivitis and 3,384 had periodontitis (the condition that occurs if gum disease is left untreated and can lead to tooth loss).
These records were compared to those of 251,161 patients who had no record of periodontal disease.
The researchers examined the data to compare the health of patients with and without periodontal disease over a period of three years.
Those diagnosed with gum disease were found more likely to develop cardiovascular, metabolic and autoimmune diseases, as well as mental health disorders.
Specifically, the research team discovered that for those subjects with a medical history of periodontal disease, the increased risk of developing:
- Anxiety or depression was 37 percent.
- Autoimmune disease was increased by 33 percent
- Type 2 diabetes rose to 26 percent
- Cardiovascular disease was 18 percent greater
What does this mean for you?
The connection between oral health and bodily health and disease is more than just an interesting research finding. The researchers see important implications for how we take care of ourselves in the real world.
“An important implication of our findings is the need for effective communication between dental and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients obtain an effective treatment plan targeting both oral and wider health to improve their existing overall health and reduce the risk of future illness,” says Professor Krish Nirantharakumar of the University of Birmingham.
In other words, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if your dentist and your medical doctor started talking to each other more.
Professor Nirantharakumar foresees a world in which dentists, who are normally the first to spot gum disease, communicate regularly with doctors.
This will allow a doctor to monitor a patient’s overall health in light of their oral health, and to make recommendations that will help prevent more serious illnesses from developing.
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