Bacteria-laden mouths and bleeding gums are giving medical researchers plenty to think about.
Turns out gum disease is associated with a greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and even pregnancy complications. And a study released last week found evidence that bacteria linked to gingivitis traveled to brains afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, hinting at a role in dementia.
As the latest research deepens scientists' understanding of the link between dental health and disease, the potential implications are coming into focus. Something as simple as treating gum disease, a neglected, often painless condition, could limit damage from some of the world's most widespread and costly illnesses. About half of all adults have some form of gum disease, says Iain Chapple, a professor of periodontology at the University of Birmingham in England. That shows the potential impact of healthier mouths, he said.
"Even if it's just going to delay onset of arthritis or cardiovascular disease, if you add it up in fiscal terms, the savings would be huge," said Chapple, who co-led a recent review of research on gum disease's links with diabetes.
Heart disease and diabetes are costly illnesses and are becoming more prevalent around the world. Heart disease, the world's biggest killer, costs the U.S. alone $108.9 billion each year, according to the American Heart Association. Diabetes, which most frequently occurs in older people who are overweight and sedentary, cost $245 billion last year, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The link to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy complications was highlighted in the research review organized by Chapple and other scientists from the U.S. and Europe. Colgate-Palmolive Co. funded the review.
Colgate, a New York-based maker of toothpaste and toothbrushes, and other makers of dental-hygiene products such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble Co. and Royal Philips NV stand to benefit if more connections between oral health and disease are established.