An October 2016 article in The Washington Post newspaper had the following title; Does gum disease have a link to cancer, dementia, stroke? The article discussed some statistics on periodontal disease prevalence and had this notable statement; “While not definitive, the links between gum disease and diabetes, at-risk pregnancy, heart disease and stroke have been so consistent that some insurers offer extra preventive periodontal care at little or no cost to people with those conditions.” The article then stated that treating periodontitis resulted in fewer hospitalizations and lower medical costs, per the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014. Hopefully this recognition by insurers of the impact of oral health on overall health will facilitate co-managed care by dental and medical professionals.
The Washington Post article is important because of its focus on the oral microbiome. Clinicians who test for oral pathogens for periodontitis patients also know the key role these same bacteria play in the initiation and progression of cardiovascular disease, adverse pregnancy events, rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other systemic conditions. Dr. Robert Genco, from the Forsyth Institute stated in the article; “There is a complex microbiome, some of which seems to come from the mouth, in the fatty tissue of the heart walls where cholesterol and heart disease fester.” Chronic and transient bacterias contribute to atherosclerosis development, which can ultimately lead to heart attacks and strokes, among others. Those of you testing for oral pathogens know this, and as a consequence of that test information you are potentially reducing the risk for these chronic, life threatening diseases.
Articles such as this, and others pieces written for lay publications, are elevating the awareness in the public about the mouth-body connection. So, how should we respond to patients who inquire about articles like this? Are we going to dismiss such reports as not relevant to dentistry, or are we equally inspired and seek to use our knowledge to take action? What action should we take? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3; identify the bacteria the patient has by salivary testing and provide or recommend the devices the patient needs to reduce the microbiome.
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