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Although dental treatment was not included in Israel's National Health Insurance Law and is thus not in the basket of health services provided by your health insurer, what is happening in your mouth has a direct connection to diseases in the rest of your body.
Periodontal disease - chronic inflammation of the gums found to some extent in the majority of adults - was thought for years to be a problem limited to the oral cavity. But in recent years, evidence has been mounting that this chronic condition affects the systemic health of the individual.
Caused by pathogenic bacteria found in the mouth that colonize the plaque surrounding the teeth, such inflammation is responsible for most cases of tooth loss in adults over the age of 30. The disease develops slowly and is usually without symptoms, which means patients will be diagnosed long after the process begins. The typical clinical warning signs are red and swollen gums with bleeding, especially after brushing the teeth.
Studies in animals and humans have clearly shown that there is an associative and causative link between periodontal infections and low-birth-weight babies. In addition, men younger than 50 who have gum disease are at a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease than counterparts who have healthy gums. So far, there is no research showing that atherosclerosis (clogging of the coronary arteries) can be prevented by treating gum disease, but many studies nevertheless show a connection between the two. Research has also linked the debilitating autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis with gum disease.
To try to understand the mechanism that links periodontal disease with systemic disorders, researchers at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and Dental School are studying the connection between oral bacteria and changes in the function of the immune system, with a focus on molecular changes caused by the immune system's chronic exposure to periodontal bacteria. These microorganisms adhere to the roots of the teeth, swell the gums and remain there for 30 years or more; they enter the bloodstream and are bound to affect the rest of the body, not just the mouth.
The mechanism by which they cause trouble in the rest of the body is not very clear, but diabetes researchers believe the bacteria spread via the bloodstream, increase insulin resistance and thus raise the blood sugar level. This not only makes it difficult for diabetics to balance their blood sugar levels; it can also increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
A State University of New York study of diabetic patients showed that treating their gum disease significantly reduced their blood sugar levels and the need to take drugs for their condition. Thus, one of the first things that a newly diagnosed diabetic should do is go to the dentist and get periodontal treatment if necessary.
Studies carried out among pregnant women who have gum infections showed that treating their gum disease helps prevent gestational diabetes, which is the inability to process dietary sugars normally during pregnancy and puts women and their babies at increased risk of injury and illness. This temporary condition can increase women's risk of later contracting Type 2 diabetes.
Nearly half of all pregnant women with gestational diabetes also have periodontal disease, compared to one in 10 pregnant women without gestational diabetes, according to researchers at Tulane University in Louisiana. The recent study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was the first to demonstrate a link between poor oral health and diabetes during pregnancy. Based on their analysis, the researchers recommend that dental care during pregnancy be considered as a way to help prevent gestational diabetes.
Any form of diabetes will influence one's gums, and even well-controlled diabetes will cause some negative changes in the periodontal condition.
Therefore, all pregnant women should have several dental exams, preferably one before the start of pregnancy, another at three months (without x-rays), a third three months later and a fourth six weeks after delivery, and all diabetics should visit their dentist every four months.
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