Remember back in elementary school when you learned about dental care? You were given the red tablets to chew to see where you had plaque building up on your teeth so you would know how much better you needed to brush. Most of us therefore realized that we needed to take care of our teeth to prevent periodontitis, or gum disease, but excess plaque actually can contribute to a host of other systemic health issues.
We’ve all also heard that plaque builds up in our arteries and can eventually clog them and lead to a heart attack. But that plaque is different from plaque in your mouth, right? Well, yes and no.
The plaque is different, but the bacteria that causes the plaque in the mouth creates infection. The body needs to work overtime to try to eliminate that infection, so the immune system is constantly functioning. This constant action may cause the liver to secrete substances that clog arteries. Some of the bacteria specifically associated with gum disease, such as streptococcus sanguis, for instance, may cause arterial buildup, as well.
Another cardiovascular issue related to plaque and gum disease is infective endocarditis. Infective endocarditis occurs when the valves or the lining of the heart become inflamed, which can lead to heart damage. The bacteria from the gum disease gets released systemically, into the blood stream. People with existing heart conditions such as damaged valves or artificial organs run a higher risk of getting infective endocarditis, but, according to the American Heart Association, good oral hygiene to prevent plaque buildup and gum disease can also help prevent these systemic cardiovascular issues.
Gum disease caused by plaque has also been linked to low birth weight and premature birth. Premature infants and those weighing under 2500g have more health issues such as birth defects, neurological problems, respiratory issues and behavior struggles as they get older. A study in Clinical Microbiology Reviews indicated that over 18 percent of all premature and low-weight babies might be affected by gum disease.
Older adults are particularly susceptible to pneumonia, and gum disease may contribute to the chances of getting and difficulty in recovering from pneumonia. Bacteria from plaque can affect the respiratory system’s health. Although often exacerbated by smoking, lack of activity, immune system problems, chronic lung disease and congestive heart failure, good oral hygiene to eliminate plaque may help systemic health and prevent pneumonia.
As we all remember from those elementary school presentations, prevention is the best way to eliminate systemic problems from plaque and maintain oral health. The American Dental Association recommends you brush and floss after each meal, at least twice daily. Currently, a number of anti-microbial toothpastes and rinses are on the market, and the ADA indicates they may be helpful in reducing plaque. We know regular dental visits are important for oral health; now we realize they may be important for overall, systemic health, as well.
“Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Asm.org.
“Infective Endocarditis.” American Heart Association. Americanheart.org.
“Cleaning Teeth and Gums.” American Dental Association. Ada.org.