All of our body’s organ systems are interconnected. What happens in one system can and often does affect other systems. One prominent and currently emphasized interrelationship is the one between periodontal (gum) disease and cardiovascular disease. And in particular, it is inflammation which is the common link between these two conditions.
Inflammation by itself is not a bad thing. Acute inflammation is the body’s normal response to injury and infection. This type of inflammation is experienced as redness, pain and swelling. Immediately after an injury, there is a biochemical reaction which improves blood flow to the affected area. Nerve and other cells send out signals to recruit white blood cells which help fight foreign bodies. This acute inflammation is absolutely necessary for normal good health.
There is another kind of inflammation which is our main concern in this article. That is chronic inflammation which is also known as low–grade or systemic inflammation. This inflammation is long–lasting and examples include autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. In these cases the body mistakenly initiates an inflammatory response even though there is no actual infection or injury to be fought. Other examples of chronic inflammation include inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Chronic “hidden” inflammation occurs throughout the body when something engages the immune system. This engagement varies from person to person but may include repeated or prolonged infection, smoking and gum disease. Obesity also makes one prone to inflammation as fat cells turn out inflammatory proteins called cytokines. Most people don’t know that they are inflamed. There is a test which measures the inflammatory marker called the C–reactive protein but it is not used routinely to determine increased risk of associated diseases. The important point is that inflammation is the primary cause for most of our serious chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease to name but a few.
As far as the connection between gum disease and cardiovascular disease, research indicates that heart disease, clogged arteries, stroke and bacterial endocarditis may all be linked to oral health. Researchers believe that gum–disease–producing bacteria enter the bloodstream and make their way to the heart. And just as these bacteria create chronic inflammation and damage of the gums and bone around the teeth, the same bacteria can cause a similar response in the blood vessels. Inflammation can begin and accelerate the build-up of plaques with in blood vessels – called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. These plaques decrease the flow of blood to both the heart and the brain, and if such a plaque breaks free can result in a heart attack or stroke.
What can you do? Roughly 75% of adults have some form of gum disease and 30 % have moderate to advanced periodontitis. Those with more advanced gum disease are much more likely to develop associated inflammation-related heart disease or stroke or the other inflammation-related illnesses. Having a thorough periodontal examination and following up with necessary gum disease periodontal therapy is the best first step. Avoid the obvious creators of inflammation which have been proven to be unhealthy. Prime examples are smoking and heavy drinking of alcohol.
There are many who advocate an “anti-inflammatory” diet. Many of the recommended foods would be typical of Mediterranean cuisine and certainly represent good nutrition. Such a diet would include:
• Generous amounts of fruits and vegetables
• Using healthy fats like olive oil
• Eating small portions of nuts
• Drinking red wine in moderation
• Eating fish regularly
• Limiting or eliminating red meat
If you would like more information about inflammation, gum disease and your health, please feel free to contact us by telephone at 908.359.6655 or via our website at www.DesignsForDentalHealth.com