There is mounting evidence of a link between gum disease (periodontitis)… (Sean Gallup / Getty Images )
It's not just the desire for a picture-perfect smile that's driving people to the dentist and orthodontist these days. Dr. Heather Stamm, a Denver dentist, says that more of her patients are coming in for checkups because of health concerns.
"There's been so much research showing that the mouth can cause so many other things in your body to go awry, so it's all kind of tied together," says Stamm.
Though the research is still in its early stages, there is mounting evidence of a link between gum disease (periodontitis) and overall health, including an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and maybe even pre-term birth.
"The links are still not enormously strong," says Dr. Paul Reggiardo, a pediatric dentist in Huntington Beach, Calif. "What they are right now are tantalizing."
For instance, a 2008 consensus report in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology concluded that periodontitis — in which the tissues surrounding the teeth are inflamed and infected, leading to progressive bone loss and ultimately loss of teeth — "may contribute to cardiovascular events and stroke in susceptible subjects."
The report, which stressed the need for further investigation of the potential health effects, also stated that "poorly controlled" diabetes may increase the severity of gum disease, which in turn is associated with poor blood sugar regulation and other diabetes-related complications.
The authors concluded that there is a "likely association" between periodontal disease and an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes," but that the evidence is inconclusive.