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The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Integrative Dentistry by . View all columns in series
Recent studies have shown that inflammation anywhere in the body may lead to increase risk of heart disease. Gum disease is always accompanied by inflammation. From it's initial stages (gingivitis) to the more advanced (periodontitis), gum disease is appearing more likely to be one of contributing factors towards increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein produced by the liver when there is inflammation somewhere in the body. With the presence of inflammation, these proteins pour into the blood stream via the liver. The amount of C-reactive protein in the blood may be measured from a sample of blood taken from a vein and co-related to the risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A reading below 1 mg indicates low risk; 1 to 3 mg means moderate risk; and over 3 mg is high risk. These proteins lead to the formation of hard plaques in the blood vessels leading to arteriosclorosis and cardiovascular disease. If their presence is pronounced in the carotid arteries in the neck, then stroke may result due to lack of oxygen being transported to the brain.

We know that gum disease can begin with inflammation and lead to infection without the person knowing its presence. This is due to the fact that gum disease is usually not accompanied by pain. Many individuals neglect regular dental check ups for years and assume their mouth is healthy. Not realizing what an effect chronic inflammation could have on the rest of their health, they assume having a little bleeding when brushing or flossing is normal.

Periodontal disease can lead to loss of teeth. This, of course, can be very detrimental towards chewing and digestion. On a social level, bad breath is one of the initial signs of gum disease and this can have a major effect on personal and work relationships. Commercial mouthwashes and toothpastes advertise that they remove bad breath. However, the truth is that they only mask bad breath temporarily and don't destroy it. The only way to permanently fight bad breath is to determine its cause. If the cause is internal due to diet, digestive, or systemic diseases, then that needs to be addressed. If the cause is due to gum disease then the dentist needs to be told and the cause determined and treated. Bad breath may be due to gum disease or old, ill fitting fillings or crowns (caps). If this is the cause, then the old fillings or caps need to be changed.

Bad breath, bleeding of the gums on brushing and flossing all are warning signs for gum disease. Now that we know there is a correlation between gum disease and high risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke, regular check ups with the dentist must be done routinely, just like breast exams and pap smears.

      
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 About The Author
Flora Stay, DDS holds a doctor of dental surgery degree from University of California, San Francisco. She is the founder of ...moreFlora Stay DDS
 
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