Periodontitis is a set of inflammatory diseases affecting the periodontium, i.e., the tissues that surround and support the teeth. Periodontitis involves progressive loss of the alveolar bone around the teeth, and if left untreated, can lead to the loosening and subsequent loss of teeth. Periodontitis is caused by microorganisms that adhere to and grow on the tooth's surfaces, along with an overly aggressive immune response against these microorganisms. A diagnosis of periodontitis is established by inspecting the soft gum tissues around the teeth with a probe (i.e. a clinical exam) and by evaluating the patient's dental x ray films (i.e. a radiographic exam), to determine the amount of bone loss around the teeth. Specialists in the treatment of periodontitis are periodontists; their field is known as "periodontology" or "periodontics".
The 1999 classification system for periodontal diseases and conditions listed seven major categories of periodontal diseases, of which the last six are termed destructive periodontal disease because they are essentially irreversible. The seven categories are as follows: gingivitis, chronic periodontitis, aggressive periodontitis, periodontitis as a manifestation of systemic disease, necrotizing, ulcerative gingivitis/periodontitis, abscesses of the periodontium, combined periodontic-endodontic lesions.
If you're worried about heart disease, you can easily spend thousands of dollars each year trying to prevent it, paying hand over fist for prescription medicines, shelves of healthy cookbooks, fitness machines for your home, and a gym membership.
Or maybe not. A number of recent studies suggest that you may already have a cheap and powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes, and other heart disease conditions. It costs less than $2 and is sitting on your bathroom counter. It is none other than the humble toothbrush.
"There are a lot of studies that suggest that oral health, and gum disease in particular, are related to serious conditions like heart disease," says periodontist Sally Cram, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association.
So can preventing periodontal disease, a disease of the gums and bone that support the teeth, with brushing and flossing prevent heart disease?
Could Periodontal Disease Cause Heart Attacks?
So could periodontal disease, gingivitis, or another dental disorder, pericoronitis (when gum tissue around the molars becomes swollen and infected) cause heart attacks and strokes? It's far too early to say.
But even if periodontal disease isn't actually causing heart disease, the connection could still be important. For instance, periodontal disease might be an early sign of cardiovascular problems. Heart disease can be hard to catch early, because many of the conditions that precede it have no symptoms. You won't ever feel your arteries hardening or your cholesterol rising. But you might notice bleeding or painful gums.
If further studies bear out the connection between periodontal disease and heart disease, the next step would be to try treatment, Desvarieux says. Might taking antibiotics not only help heal oral infections but, as a result, also lower your risk of heart disease? No one's sure, but it's possible.
It's still too early for official preventive steps, since researchers don't know exactly how heart disease and periodontal disease are connected.