Periodontal disease and how it affects your health

by Dr. Rashmi Shankar, D.D.S.

There is a common misconception that the oral cavity is a separate entity from the rest of your body. However, bacteria in your mouth can be related to and affect other common diseases. In this article I would like to discuss periodontal disease, it’s relationship to systemic conditions, and what can be done to improve oral hygiene.

Everyone has heard of terms such as gum disease, and periodontal disease. What do they specifically mean? Gum disease is an inflammation of the gums, and is reversible with proper hygiene. Periodontal disease destroys the tissues that support the teeth, and is irreversible. Periodontal disease is reflected in full mouth bleeding sores, bone loss, and tooth mobility.

Smoking and poorly controlled diabetes are common risk factors for development of periodontal disease. Tobacco users are five to seven times more likely to exhibit periodontal disease than non-smokers. Smoking has a destructive effect on your immune system and studies have shown that smoking cessation significantly slows periodontal disease progression. Similarly, patients with poorly controlled diabetes are more susceptible to chronic infection and thus, it is imperative that diabetic patients persist to maintain meticulous oral hygiene.

Periodontal disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, and complications during pregnancy. Aspiration of oral microbes have been linked to respiratory disease such as pneumonia.

With regards to cardiovascular disease, it has been proposed that bacteria entering systemic circulation may contribute to the clot forming process. Lastly, there is a very strong association between periodontal disease and pregnancy complications, specifically an increased risk for delivery of a pre-term, low birth weight baby.

Early detection of periodontal disease is crucial in determining a patient's treatment options. If detected early, non-invasive treatment along with frequent follow-ups for the first year can be effective management strategy. In a five year follow up study this was an effective approach and significantly reduced the need for surgery and tooth loss. It is very important to maintain the hygiene schedule set up by your dentist because depending on certain risk factors, home care alone is not enough to control the disease process. 


  • The non-surgical treatment of patients with periodontal disease. JADA Vol 133
  • Assessing Risk for Chronic Periodontitis in Adults. Dr. Jay Williams D.M.D.
  • The relationship of periodontal disease to diseases and disorders at distant sites. ADA Vol. 139, No.10
  • Oral Care for patients with cardiovascular disease and stroke. JADA Vol 133

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