High blood pressure is a huge problem in the United States and affects nearly 30% of adults aged 18 and over. It’s a major risk factor for heart disease, although it can generally be managed through making lifestyle changes and through taking prescribed medications. However, a recent study discovered that treating gum disease or periodontal disease could significantly lower blood pressure.
This is true amongst people who are at risk of developing high blood pressure. The study was relatively small and compared blood pressure levels after people had received standard and more intensive treatment for periodontal disease. The standard treatment included having their teeth professionally cleaned, removing plaque from above the gum level combined with basic oral hygiene instructions to help improve dental care at home.
The more intensive treatment included a standard professional dental cleaning combined with deep cleaning right down to the tooth roots. This was done using local anesthesia and antibiotics, and dental extractions were carried out where necessary. Researchers discovered that a month after treatment systolic blood pressure was nearly 3 points lower.
This is amongst those people who had received intensive treatment for periodontal disease while diastolic blood pressure remained the same. Some three months after treatment systolic blood pressure had dropped by nearly 8 points. Diastolic blood pressure was down by nearly 4 points amongst patients receiving more intensive treatment for gum disease.
After six months of intensive treatment for periodontal disease, systolic blood pressure was down by nearly 13 points while diastolic blood pressure was down by nearly 10 points. Although only a small study, it does demonstrate that patients receiving intensive periodontal treatment could benefit from lower blood pressure levels. Their gum tissue health improves and becomes healthier and less inflamed.
For this study, just over a hundred men and women aged 18 years and over and who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe gum disease and pre-hypertension were assessed. Participants were split into two randomly assigned groups, half of whom received standard treatment while the other half received intensive treatment. Researchers concede that more research is needed, especially amongst people from more diverse backgrounds.
What Could This Mean for You?
If you do have high blood pressure it is worth booking a dental checkup especially if you haven’t been for a while. This is even if medications and lifestyle changes are helping to keep it under control. Unfortunately, gum disease is a huge problem and it’s estimated around half of all adults will develop some form of gum disease during their lifetime.
One of the main problems with gum disease is the inflammatory reaction it causes. This over time destroys gum tissue and can frequently lead to tooth loss, and this inflammation can spread to the rest of the body. This is because gum disease or periodontal disease is a bacterial infection and your body will automatically try to fight any form of infection which results in inflammation.
With periodontal disease, gums will frequently bleed which allows the bacteria that cause the infection to get into your bloodstream. Once inside your bloodstream, these bacteria can potentially travel anywhere within your body. Periodontal disease has not only been linked to heart disease but also to dementia, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
This is why regular dental care is so important for not only protecting your smile but also your general health.
How Does a Dentist Diagnose Gum Disease?
Whenever you see your dentist for a checkup they not only assess the health of your teeth, but also the health of your gums. By visually examining your gums, your dentist can check for any signs of infection and inflammation because diseased gums will often appear red and swollen. Healthy gums should be a pale pink, are firm to touch and unlike diseased gums have a lightly stippled appearance.
They also fit tightly around your teeth whereas infected gums may have begun to pull away from your teeth. This creates what is called periodontal pockets or gaps in between your teeth and gums. This is why one of the tests carried out by your dentist is to measure any gaps in between your teeth and gums. They do this using a small instrument called a periodontal probe.
Healthy gums will have pocket depths of between one and 3 mm. Anything over these depths may require treatment from your dentist. They could choose to monitor your dental health, instead of giving you advice on how to improve brushing and flossing at home.
What Happens If I Have Signs of Gum Disease?
Dentists recommend patients have their teeth professionally cleaned every six months. This is the standard treatment that removes plaque and calculus from above the gum line of your teeth. Sometimes just a standard cleaning can be enough to get rid of the first signs of inflammation and infection in your gums, especially when combined with better oral care at home.
For more extensive infections your dentist may recommend a treatment that will help to deep clean your teeth and gums. This is a little like a conventional scale and polish but will also clean any exposed tooth root surfaces, reaching deep into your gums. The treatment which is called scaling and root planning is often carried out as a standard treatment for periodontal disease.
This is also true for may form part of an ongoing treatment plan to help control the chronic periodontal disease.
Getting Treatment for Advanced Gum Disease
There are also many other sophisticated treatments for the advanced periodontal disease. For these, your general dentist may refer you to a periodontist or you can choose to see a periodontist without a referral. The advantage of seeing a periodontist is that you will be treated by a dental specialist. One who has completed years of additional training in treating problems with the gums and other tissues surrounding your teeth.
This includes your jawbone and the ligaments or connective tissues that help hold your teeth in their sockets. If advanced gum disease has destroyed tissues around your teeth, your periodontist can suggest the most suitable treatments for helping to restore these lost tissues wherever possible. Advanced procedures include bone grafting, gum grafting, and tissue regeneration.
What about Preventing Gum Disease?
Although common, gum disease is preventable with a good oral care that includes regular checkups and cleanings and a great oral hygiene routine at home. This is a far healthier approach, protecting your dental health and your general health. If you’re not sure you’re cleaning your teeth correctly, ask your dentist or hygienist for help and advice.