The Oral/Systemic Link: How Long Has This Been Going On?
by Valerie Williams, RDH
Health professionals are finally starting to see the deep connections between dental health and general health. Awareness began with the Surgeon General’s 2000 report, the first to discuss the importance of dental health to a patient’s overall health. It is impossible to have one without the other!
Over the years various studies and research projects have supported this premise. The oral/systemic link is clear and strong. Consumer magazines from AARP to Readers’ Digest inform the public on this important issue. As mentioned last week, even insurance companies are taking notice and enhancing benefits.
Dr. Williams Maas, the director of the division of oral health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was recently quoted in the AARP Bulletin: “Dental care is just as important as medical care, hospital care and prescription drugs. It is inconsistent for society to recognize that oral health is important yet treat dental care as if it were discretionary.”
Dental teams need to educate themselves first and then their patients. Everyone on the team should be able to succinctly explain what the oral/systemic link means: Bacteria from chronic periodontal infections can travel through the bloodstream to the heart and other organs.
Normal metabolic processes produce reactive byproducts that can do damage if not kept under control. Among these are three forms of oxygen (molecular oxygen, peroxide and superoxide) that react by taking electrons from other molecules, a process called oxidation. The body reacts by providing antioxidants, compounds that can be oxidized without harming the body. Researchers have found that, as we get older, our bodies are less effective at handling oxidization. The enzymes that catalyze the reactions may be in short supply, or antioxidants may not be as abundant as in younger bodies.
In addition, bacteria from chronic periodontal infections can travel through the bloodstream to the heart and other organs. Researchers are also exploring the connection between periodontal disease and inflammation elsewhere in the body. Patients who have periodontal disease are more susceptible to developing other diseases. Patients who have coronary heart disease, diabetes, are pregnant or have had a stroke can have more complications if their periodontal disease isn’t treated early. It has to do with inflammation and our body’s reaction to it. Chronic conditions are exceptionally taxing on our systems, and periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease.
Dental practices have an unprecedented opportunity to step up and treat the whole patient. By providing excellent dental care, dental practitioners may be adding years to their patients’ lives. Don’t miss this opportunity! If you are interested, please contact Advanced Hygiene Concepts for more information!
Valerie Williams, RDH