The ultimate outcome of uncontrolled periodontal disease is tooth loss. As the destructive factors cause the breakdown of bone and connective tissue, teeth lose their anchor.
A much less severe but nevertheless distressing problem caused by periodontal disease is bad breath, although coatings on the tongue may contribute more to bad breath than periodontal disease.
Studies have reported that people who have heart disease have a 1.5 - 4 times increased risk for periodontal disease. (The risk is highest for patients with extensive gum disease, bleeding from every tooth.) Acute coronary syndrome, high blood pressure (hypertension), and high cholesterol have also been associated with periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease has also been linked to stroke and coronary artery disease (CAD). The more severe the periodontitis, the greater the risk for heart problems. However, it is still not clear whether periodontal disease is a risk factor for stroke or a marker that reflects various risk factors common to both conditions.
An inflammatory response may be the common element. This is an over-reaction of the immune system that causes injury to tissues in the body. Patients with heart conditions and periodontal disease may have elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), which indicates inflammation is present. Some research indicates that this inflammatory response can also cause injury in the arteries supplying blood to the heart.
Other evidence suggests that the periodontal disease bacteria themselves -- particularly P. gingivalis, T. denticola, T. forsythia, and streptococci species -- may be associated with thicker carotid arteries (a predictor of heart attack and stroke), regardless of C-reactive protein levels. It is still not clear if periodontal disease actually causes heart disease.
It is also not clear if treating gum disease can reduce the risks of heart disease and improve health outcomes for patients with periodontal disease and vascular heart problems. Studies have been mixed, but research is ongoing.
Diabetes is not only a risk factor for periodontal disease -- periodontal disease itself can worsen diabetes and make it more difficult to control blood sugar.
Bacteria that reproduce in the mouth can also be carried into the airways in the throat and lungs, increasing the risks for respiratory diseases and worsening chronic lung conditions, such as emphysema.
Many studies strongly indicate that bacterial infections that cause moderate-to-severe periodontal disease in pregnant women can increase the risk for premature delivery and low birth weight infants. The more severe the infection, the greater the risk to the baby. Research indicates that bacteria from gum disease and tooth decay may trigger the same factors in the immune system, which can then cause premature dilation and contractions.
Women should have a periodontal examination before becoming pregnant or as soon as possible thereafter. Because women with diabetes are at higher risk for periodontal disease, it is especially important that they see a dentist early in pregnancy. Doctors are still not sure if treating periodontal disease can improve birth outcomes. In any case, periodontal treatment is safe for pregnant women.
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