Doctor D’s Blog

The missing link of gum disease

The development of the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the lives of many, and has rapidly changed how we live, work, and learn. However, it has also exacerbated the most common dental problem: periodontitis, also know as “gum disease” (*). More frequent snacking, consuming more sugary foods and beverages and not keeping up with regular brushing and flossing all have very negative impacts on our oral – and, as is unfortunately not widely known – overall health. Inflammation in the body does not stop in the mouth or any other organ – our organs are all interconnected.

Periodontal disease has long been associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases in the body:

cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer – it can impact the management of these conditions. The question of why this association occurs has puzzled researchers for many years. The answer – the missing link in this mechanism – may have been discovered recently at the University of Toronto’s Dental Research Department. It turns out that neutrophils, the white blood cells that are the “first responders” of the innate immune system, may be the link. When periodontal (or gum) inflammation is present, more neutrophils circulate systemically and are “primed” to be hypervigilant. If a secondary infection or other immune assault occurs in another location (heart, lungs, brain etc.) the circulating primed neutrophils will over-react and damage these tissues and organs. This may also explain why patients with periodontal disease have poorer COVID-19 outcomes.

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Bleeding from your gums during daily brushing may be an early symptom of gum disease. Plaque that you missed while brushing calcifies within 24 hours and leads to tartar buildup that can only be removed by a professional. Uncontrolled tartar buildup may lead to irreversible gum disease, and as we now know, a condition in one location has an effect that reaches far deeper into our organism than one would think.

The neutrophil may be the missing link to this chain reaction.

(*) Did you know? 7/10 Canadians will develop some form of periodontal disease in their lives.