Advances in both orthodontic technology and the dental hygiene regime of the average person have changed this situation to the point at which the average surgery is a high tech medical facility which, as well as providing a dazzling range of cosmetic procedures such as dental implants for missing teeth, can lead the fight against other more serious illnesses which have been linked to dental health.
Recent research taking place at Austria’s Innsbruck Medical University has been examining the link between periodontitis and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Periodontitis is a form of gum disease which attacks the gums leaving them swollen, painful, tender and often bleeding. The earliest form of this condition is known as gingivitis and is caused by the build-up of plaque along the line where the teeth meet the gums. If left untreated, gingivitis can cause ‘pockets’ to appear along the gum line and these pockets attract plaque, infection and decay. If it isn’t dealt with, gingivitis can go on to become the much more serious periodontitis, which can mean the gums become infected with bacteria and the bone of the jaw itself as well as the roots of the teeth can be at risk.
Clearly, periodontal disease can lead to catastrophic tooth loss, but the research being looked at here has also highlighted the fact that a link can be discerned between periodontal disease and hardened arteries. The research looked at a sample group of 292 patients with an average age of 54 years. 155 of the patients were men and the remainder were women. The research involved a combination of traditional dental techniques as well as cutting edge digital tomography, and utilised a methodology known as logistical regression. The main thrust of the research was to examine the links between good dental health and the condition of patients’ arteries, and the conclusions were that a connection between the two could definitely be discerned.
The findings of the research, presented in a simplified form, were as follows:
Patients with less than one dental cavity suffered from hardened arteries less than those who presented with multiple cavities.
Patients suffering from higher levels of periodontal disease exhibited a greater tendency towards hardened arteries.
Factors such as the age of each patient, which would tend to make higher numbers of cavities and greater levels of periodontitis more prevalent, were taken into account when analysing the data. The damage is caused when the bacteria present in periodontal disease get into the bloodstream and attack the walls of the blood vessel. This can cause scarring and the build-up of plaque which is commonly referred to as ‘hardened arteries’. The problem can become extremely serious as the plaque in the blood vessels becomes thicker and more substantial. As pieces of this plaque break off and come free they can block the vessels pumping blood to the heart, causing a heart attack, or the vessels leading to the brain, which can cause the patient to have a stroke.