Research has shown that gum disease may cause or aggravate several other general conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and cancer. Gum disease has even been linked with problems in pregnancy and dementia. There is high-quality evidence to support an association between cardiovascular disease and oral health. Despite this, only one in six people realise that people with gum disease may have an increased risk of stroke or diabetes. And only one in three is aware of the heart disease link. Inflammation caused by gum disease may be responsible rather than bacteria which was the usual suspect. The theory is that the body reacts to inflammation by elevating certain chemicals in the blood and that these factors fight inflammation but in the long run can damage vessels in the heart and other organs. It is therefore important to control the inflammation to reduce the chances of developing or worsening other conditions.
Dentists, dental therapists and dental hygienists need to continually reinforce the emerging new evidence and keep patients and carers informed of this very important health message. This is particularly important in high-risk groups such as smokers and those who are overweight. It is clear that gum treatment can reduce inflammation in other parts of the body so it follows that effective prevention and early treatment of gum disease may have an important role in reducing an individual’s susceptibility to serious health problems. The continuing preventive advice will contribute to health promotion at a population level. It is important for dental clinicians to screen patients on an annual basis using a basic periodontal examination. This includes children as the British Society of Periodontology recommends that periodontal screening becomes a routine part of the dental clinical examination in all co-operative children and adolescents. It is also important that all screening and preventive advice is recorded accurately in the patient’s notes as well as any advice on referral to specialist care.