Oral and dental health have recently taken on more importance when considering our overall health. Gum disease is an infection. In fact, it is the most common infection in the world, and researchers are beginning to suspect that there is a connection between dental infections and other diseases of the body. This is because there is a direct link from your teeth to your bloodstream.

At Cleveland Clinic, our physicians and dentists are acutely aware of the relationship between oral and general health and work together to provide the best care possible.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, sometimes called "Pyorrhea", is the medical name for gum disease. It is the most common dental affliction in the world and is usually a slow, chronic infection with few symptoms in the beginning. Bacteria live under the gum tissue and over time create infection and "pockets", as seen in the image at the right, which allow more bacteria to develop.

As the disease worsens and more bacteria live under the gums, the chance that these bacteria move into the blood stream and cause problems in other parts of the body increases.

Researchers have demonstrated that a body's immune system reaction is higher in people with gum disease, and there is now some evidence to suggest that these individuals have a higher incidence of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) and heart disease.

Dental Abscesses

The dental abscess is another kind of oral infection commonly seen. It usually is an infection around the root of a tooth, in the gums, or of the jawbones. Bacteria invading a decayed tooth or unhealthy gums most commonly cause dental abscesses. Unlike periodontal disease, tooth abscesses are usually (but not always) painful.

Dental abscesses have been directly linked to some forms of cardiac valve infection, that is, the bacteria have been found lodged on heart valves, presumably spreading through the blood stream.

Losing Teeth

Both of the above problems can lead to loss of your teeth. Because periodontal disease symptoms are easy to ignore and it is a slow process, by the time you notice that something is wrong or that your teeth are becoming loose, it may be too late to save them.

Dentures are a poor substitute for your own teeth and people with artificial teeth have much less biting and chewing ability and so they modify their diet to softer foods. These foods are frequently less nutritious and of higher fat levels, and thus can further affect overall health.

Maintaining and Restoring Oral Health

The best method of maintaining oral health is, like most everything, to prevent problems before they occur. Regular visits to the dentist and dental hygienist are a surefire way to avoid these potentially serious infections as well as maintaining your smile.

If you have gum or any other oral disease, there is even more reason to visit your professional. He or she can help you eliminate these infections, which are not only a problem for your teeth, but impact your overall health!

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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