The connection between gum disease and other health concerns, including diabetes and heart disease, has been studied for a long time. While there hasn’t been conclusive proof that gumdisease causes the other conditions, there is evidence that links it. For example, if you have diabetes, you’re also more likely to have some form of gum disease.
A more recent study, published in June in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, takes the connection between diseases a step further. It examined the impact that getting gum disease treated could have on a person’s other conditions.
What the Study Found
The study was conducted by Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. She and her team examined the insurance records of 338,891 patients. To be included in the study, the patients had to have periodontal disease and one of five conditions commonly linked to gum disease, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, pregnancy or rheumatoid arthritis.
Patients who had received treatment for gum disease were more likely to have lower overall healthcare costs and fewer hospital stays. In some cases, the number was significantly lower. Patients were considered to have been treated for gum disease if their records showed that they had gone in for follow-up appointments after the initial treatment.
Pregnant women had the most dramatic drop in healthcare cost if they received treatment for gum disease. Medical costs were nearly 74 percent lower for pregnant women who had gum disease treatment compared to those without treatment. Costs for treated patients with diabetes were about 40 percent lower, as were costs for patients who had a stroke. Healthcare costs dropped about 10 percent for patients with heart disease. There wasn’t a significant decrease in cost for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
What It Means
It’s important to note that the study doesn’t provide concrete proof that treating gum disease also reduces the need to treat other diseases or that it improves other conditions. What it shows is a strong correlation between the two. The authors of the study chose to publish it in a medical journal, not a dental journal, because they believe that their discovery is sufficient enough to show that treating periodontal disease can help improve the outcome of other conditions and pregnancy. The findings are meant to reach doctors and the medical community, so that they can encourage patients to see a periodontist or general dentist for an oral check-up.
Getting Your Mouth Checked
While you might be able to tell that you have gum disease if you have persistent bad breath, bleeding gums or receding gums, a periodontist or dentist can give you a definitive diagnosis quickly. The dentist will examine your gums, looking for inflammation.
He will also most likely use a probe to measure the depth of the pockets between your teeth and gums. If your gums are healthy, the pocket depth will be less than 3 mm. The process of checking your mouth for gum disease can be finished in as little as five minutes.
Treating Gum Disease
If your dentist does find that you have gum disease, treatment can be simple, especially if the disease is caught early. Non–surgicaltreatments for periodontal disease include a deep cleaning, which removes tartar and plaque below the gum line. The treatment might also include planing of the roots to smooth them down, so that the gums can reattach easily. A dentist may also prescribe antibiotics or use an antibiotic gel to kill or control the growth of bad bacteria in the mouth.
As the study noted, follow-up appointments are an essential part of a periodontal treatment plan. During a follow-up appointment, a periodontist will clean the teeth and gums and examine the mouth closely. The goal is to see if the disease is progressing or if it has gone into remission. If the disease continues to advance, further treatment is needed, such as removing additional bacteria.
Even if you don’t have one of the conditions included in the study and aren’t currently pregnant, it’s still a good idea to have your dentist perform a screening for periodontal disease. It’s easier to treat the disease before it has a chance to progress.
In the Miami area, Dr. John Paul Gallardo and Dr. William Lamas can examine your mouth and recommend the most appropriate treatment option for you, if necessary. Protect your mouth and your overall health by calling (305) 447-1447 for an appointment today.