Dental, overall health intrinsically linked

By Dr. Salina Suy

Most of us would think that the mouth and the heart, brain and lungs have nothing to do with one another, but increasing evidence has continued to link oral health with overall health.

A groundbreaking study completed by the Centers for Disease Control found that almost 50% of the U.S. population aged 30 years and older have periodontal disease. For those aged 65 and older, it was 70%.

Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory oral disease that can occur due to poor oral hygiene and the accumulation of bacteria, plaque and tartar in the mouth. When periodontitis is left untreated, it can lead to chronic bacterial inflammation, infection and bone loss. People are then encouraged to prioritize their dental health by brushing their teeth twice daily and visiting a dentist regularly for routine checkups, cleaning, dental implants and other services. Your kids should also start visiting a pediatric dental office at an early age to develop good dental health habits.

Periodontal disease is more common in men, smokers and increases with age. As we continue to live longer, maintaining good oral health to retain the teeth we have means more now than ever.

Periodontal disease is now linked to other diseases and conditions such as diabetes, lower birth weight babies, rheumatoid arthritis, an increase risk of pancreatic cancer and heart, lung and brain diseases.

Oral, heart health link

Research points to link gum disease with a higher chance of heart disease, stroke and sudden vascular events. Research suspects the bacteria present in gum disease can travel throughout the body through everyday activities such as eating and drinking. Think about it — every time you swallow, you swallow the oral bacteria present!

This bacterium then enters your bloodstream, accumulating and triggering inflammation and infection. Inflammation sets off a cascade of vascular damage throughout the body, including the heart and brain, while the heart vessels become at risk of infection.

Oral bacteria have been uncovered in the fatty deposits of people with atherosclerosis, a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries. If those plaques remain untreated, they can lead to narrow or broken arteries.

Patients with certain existing heart conditions require antibiotics before dental procedures to protect the heart. These conditions include artificial heart valve, history of infective endocarditis, congenital heart disease, transplant, heart valves scarred by conditions such as rheumatic fever, mitral valve prolapse with murmur, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Oral, pulmonary health

Research shows oral bacteria into lungs can cause infection and that periodontal disease-associated enzymes can change the mucosal linings throughout the pulmonary tract, making it more difficult for respiratory pathogens to be eliminated and increasing likelihood of infection. Oral bacteria can make pre-existing pulmonary conditions worse due to associated inflammation.

Oral, brain health

Can brushing daily give you better brain health? Research shows that oral bacteria entering through the bloodstream secrete toxic protein that destroys brain neurons and boosts components of brain plaques. Gum disease has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and increases chances of early onset dementia.

Do I have periodontal disease?

If you haven’t seen us in a while, do a self-exam and check yourself out in a bathroom mirror.

Although it may not necessarily mean you have gum disease, here are some warning signs you may have gum disease:

• Red, swollen, or tender gums

• Bleeding while brushing, flossing, or eating hard food

• Receding gums

• Loose or separating teeth

• Persistent bad breath

With regular care, periodontal disease can be managed and your risk with the associated diseases can go back to normal. Remember this: If you have periodontal disease, you may need to see a dentist near me more often then twice a year. Your health is your wealth.

Remember to brush, floss, brush your tongue and cleanse your mouth daily.

— Dr. Salina Suy is an advocate for dentistry, health & beauty. She practices at Zalatan Dental Modern Dentist in Utica, NY.  Suy serves as the 5th district ethics chairwoman for the New York State Dental Association, as treasurer for the Oneida Herkimer County Dental Society and as a hospital attending at MVHS. For more information, call 315-724-3197 or visit