You may be sitting in the waiting room of your dentist’s office filling out your health history and wondering “Why is this form so long? I am here just for a cleaning; why does this all matter?” You may be tempted to check off “No” on all the conditions listed. I know, I have been there.
Going to the dentist in and of itself may not be one of the top 10 things you look forward to doing, and filling out health histories while there may seem like an unnecessary exercise.Research is now linking medical conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, low birth weight and cardiovascular disease, to name a few, to gum disease.Chronic inflammation that goes untreated leads to bleeding gums that open a channel of communication with your blood stream, allowing for toxic bacteria and their products to get into your body. In the dental world, we liken bleeding gums to open sores or wounds that we live with that don’t get any treatment. Unfortunately, you do not experience symptoms like pain with these sores and they can go unnoticed for a very long time.Your body’s immune system does however notice the open sores and bacteria infesting them and will mount an immune response to fight back.This response releases enzymes to destroy the bacteria but the response tends to be more than your body can handle. The enzymes will destroy the bacteria, the gums and bone support of your teeth, worsening the situation. This process does not cause pain and therefore can go on over many years unnoticed.
Subsequently over time we see varying degrees of bone loss, mobility, teeth moving from what seemed to be good alignment to being crowded or spaced out. You may notice your teeth feeling weaker, appearing longer than before and may be stained. As previously mentioned, the open sores deep in your gums provide access to your blood stream, allowing bacteria from your mouth into the rest of your body. This is one of the systemic connections that links your mouth to other parts of your body.Your body will, as a result, mount an inflammatory response to the bacterial invasion from your mouth strong enough to keep things at bay, but so long as the source of the bacterial challenge remains untreated, your body is always in a constant chronic inflammatory stance trying to fight.We now know that chronic inflammation is linked to systemic conditions like diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, obesity and metabolic syndrome among other diseases. It has also been shown that controlling chronic inflammation means your body is not in a constant fight mode and has time to replenish and rejuvenate itself. A healthy body is better suited to fighting disease effectively than when its reserves are depleted by chronic inflammation.
To circle back to the health history form, we review the patient’s history and discuss how oral health can affect overall health and strategize ways to maintain optimum oral health knowing the benefits this has to patients. It is therefore important to have your dentist take a look at your gums because that may be the link to a healthier life.