It is not uncommon—in fact it is the norm—that people see their primary care physician for their annual health checkups, and they see their dentist to get their teeth cleaned and to have any needed dental restorations performed. What most don’t realize is how much the health of their oral cavity can affect their overall health.
Did you know that roughly 25 years ago, researchers discovered that the bacteria that caused periodontal (gum) disease were able to enter the bloodstream and cause heart disease? Since that time, researchers have found that periodontal bacteria make the control of blood sugar in diabetics more difficult and can even be a factor in causing Type II diabetes. These bacteria have also been linked to premature and lower birth weight infants in women of child bearing age. Additionally, they have been shown to increase the risk of stroke and there has even been an association found between these bacteria and the development of pancreatic cancer.
One tooth in particular that is especially hard to keep clean if it erupts into the mouth is a patient’s wisdom tooth. Located in the far reaches of the back of the mouth, these are very difficult to access to brush and floss properly, leaving them especially predisposed to periodontal disease. In fact, landmark research by White, et al has shown that virtually all erupted wisdom teeth meet criteria for some degree of periodontal disease. Given these findings, dentists are now more conscientious about recommending removal of wisdom teeth for almost all patients, the safest and simplest time to do that being during their teenage years.
It is now becoming apparent that even small localized infections can negatively influence overall health, and one of the prime culprits in these “focal” infections is periodontal disease and periodontally diseased wisdom teeth. It appears that these bacteria enter the bloodstream and create inflammation in the walls of the blood vessels and the organs they serve. If a person is genetically or environmentally predisposed to many diseases, these bacteria appear to “light the fuse” to the process.
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