Periodontal Disease and Overall Health

With the realization that periodontal disease may result in even more serious consequences than tooth loss, some people are beginning to spend a little more time with their toothbrush and floss. A growing body of research links periodontal disease to heart disease, diabetes, preterm and low birth weight babies, and respiratory disease.

Heart Disease

Researchers have found that people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without periodontal disease. Studies indicate that periodontal disease may foster the development of clogged arteries and blood clots when oral bacteria get into the blood stream. Periodontal disease also has been known to exacerbate existing heart conditions. Patients at risk for infective endocarditis may require antibiotics prior to dental procedures. Your periodontist and cardiologist can work together to determine if one’s heart condition requires use of antibiotics prior to dental procedures.


People with diabetes are more likely to have periodontal disease than people without diabetes, probably because diabetics are more susceptible to contracting infections. Research is also showing that periodontal disease can make it more difficult for diabetics to control their blood sugar because severe periodontal disease somehow increases blood sugar. A study in the Journal of Periodontology in 1997 involving 113 Pima Indians with both diabetes and periodontal disease found that when their periodontal infections were treated, the management of their diabetes markedly improved.

Premature Birth

Pregnant women who have periodontal disease may be seven times more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small.

More research is needed to confirm how periodontal disease may affect pregnancy outcomes. It appears that periodontal disease triggers increased levels of biological fluids that induce labor. Furthermore, data suggests that women whose periodontal condition worsens during pregnancy have an even higher risk of having a premature baby.

Respiratory Disease

Research suggests that bacteria found in the throat as well as bacteria in the mouth can be drawn into the lower respiratory tract causing infections or worsening existing lung conditions. Studies are in progress to learn to what extent oral hygiene and periodontal disease may be associated with more frequent bouts of respiratory disease in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

While numerous studies point to periodontal disease as a risk factor for these health conditions, proof that treating periodontal disease will benefit overall health will come only with so-called intervention studies. These types of studies are currently underway to answer questions such as: If periodontal disease is treated, is the patient less likely to have a premature baby?

“Once this research is complete, I think we’ll begin to see a major change in how we manage patients. Medical and dental practitioners will have to work together much more closely,” said Caton. “In the meantime, taking care of your gums will definitely help prevent tooth loss, and it may make you healthier as well,” said Caton.

While an estimated 35 percent of the population age 30 and over has periodontitis an advanced form of periodontal disease), many people do not even realize they have it. Periodontal disease is often silent, meaning symptoms may not appear until an advanced stage of the disease. Signals that you should visit a dentist or periodontist include:

  • Bleeding gums during brushing
  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Gums that have pulled away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Pus between the teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • A change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite

Consumers can learn more about the link between periodontal disease and other health risks by visiting the AAP’s web site at and going to the special section The Mouth Body Connection.

This article was reprinted from the American Academy of Periodontology website.

About the AAP

The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) is the professional organization for periodontistsspecialists in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth, and in the placement of dental implants. Periodontists are also dentistry’s experts in the treatment of oral inflammation. They receive three additional years of specialized training following dental school, and periodontics is one of the nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association. The AAP has 8,000 members worldwide.