A Silent Disease

Wednesday April 20, 2022

A while back, The Boston Globe ran an article entitled “Advice for all ages: Don’t skip the dentist.” It started with, “A team of researchers from London and the University of Connecticut announced that aggressive treatment of gum disease can improve the function of blood vessel walls in the body, potentially reducing the risk of heart attacks.” 

The concept is nothing new. We have known for years of the mouth-body connection with health. However, the key to the statement above is “aggressive treatment of gum disease”.

What does aggressive treatment of gum disease mean? Basically, it means that instead of watching and waiting for resolution of gum problems on their own, whatever treatment is needed to achieve gum health should be performed.

Periodontal (gum) disease is a silent disease. This means that it does not hurt. Over 75% of the population has some form of periodontal disease. Whether you have early stages of the disease or advanced periodontal involvement, you have periodontal disease. 

Any form of this disease is potentially affecting your overall systemic health. The goal in any case is to become periodontally healthy, whether it involves simply seeing a dentist more frequently or surgery. 

It is easy for patients, and even dentists, to watch and wait as opposed to taking action. “Aggressive treatment of gum disease” means that if the disease is identified, it needs to be addressed. Let’s get it right out in the open – Once you have periodontal disease, and even after it is treated, it will always return unless you follow a strict regimen of home care and professional care…….for your entire life.

Even the smallest amount of inflammation in your mouth is gum disease. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory process. As the article states, “Chronic inflammation anywhere, makes the body release nasty chemicals called cytokines that have been linked to diabetes and heart disease.” It goes on to say, “Cytokines can also trigger inflammation in artery walls, raise blood pressure, worsen cholesterol levels, and increase blood clotting, which can lead to potentially fatal heart attacks.” This also includes strokes. “Pregnancy complications, too, have been linked to gum disease, perhaps because chronic inflammation leads to high levels of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin E-2, which can induce labor.”

No one wants to hear that they need treatment for something. It is even harder to get someone to “treat something” that does not hurt and is seemingly not affecting their daily life.

The fact of the matter is, periodontal disease is a disease. Diseases need to be treated or they will affect and possibly even shorten your life. Periodontal disease is no exception. And remember, “aggressive treatment” does not mean watch and wait to see if it goes away. It won’t go away on its own – I promise.

Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating snoring, sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have, please email them to him at jpstclair@stclairdmd.com

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