Albany -- Bad breath, receding gum lines, tooth loss. Those are all signs of gum disease. But there are other, more dangerous side effects you may not know about.
Every three months, 73-year-old Wally Carden goes in for a check up with Periodontist Holland Wright. "It wasn't causing me any problems really," Carden says.
In 1973, after a bought with heart disease, Carden's dentist sent him here for treatment of gum disease that he didn't even know he had. "My parents lost some teeth and I'm sure it was because of periodontal problems."
So he made sure to go right away. Good idea, otherwise-- "I probably wouldn't have teeth."
"Anytime you are referred to a periodontist, you need to go," said Carden. And not just for the health of your teeth, but for the whole body. "It's physical health problems that can be caused by dental problems."
"Periodontal disease is essentially an inflammatory reaction to bacteria around the teeth," said Dr. Holland Wright. "Bacteria themselves create bone loss, which allows them to leak into the blood supply and that can go straight to the heart or any other organ."
Dr. Wright says about half of his patients, like Wally Carden, have a history of heart disease. But it wasn't until the 1980s that a strong link was made between the two.
"Cardiovascular disease and diabetes were probably the two associations where we realized, finally, that the head is connected to the rest of the body. Infections that affect the mouth will affect the rest of the body."
And not only the heart. New studies reveal other problems caused or aggravated by gum disease.
"Diabetes, liver disease, recently there was an article on pancreatic cancers, urinary tract infections, low weight or pre term birth, there's a lot of associations we're starting to recognize."
And for you tobacco users, listen up. You're at a greater risk for infection. Especially if you started using young. "We get more periodontal disease and more infection at an earlier age," said Dr. Wright. "Effects over time are astronomical."
But if you visit your dentist regularly and follow his advice, specifically to go to a periodontist, you may be able to minimize effects. "Early intervention is probably going to be key."
It was for Wally Carden. Every three months, he gets a clean bill of health. "I'm fine. Teeth are probably best they've been in years."
Oh, and by the way, he hasn't had any heart problems since 1973.
Tobacco users, folks with diabetes and other chronic factors should make regular dental appointments for exams and cleanings.
If your gums become red or swollen, or you teeth become lose, contact your dentist immediately.
More facts on peridontal disease and its side effects-