If you’ve taken a look at Dentistry IQ’s website lately, you may have seen lots of guest blogs by Dr. Richard Nagelberg about periodontal disease. While Nagelberg mainly addresses his colleagues and encourages them to change old habits, much of what he says can apply to you, the patient, as well.
Instead of taking preventative measures against periodontal disease, Nagelberg argues that many dentists are just treating people when the disease has already flourished. While this may have been the only way to combat the issue in the past, today patients can be tested for specific bacteria that would indicate the likelihood of disease:
The hallmark of prevention is to identify risk factors for disease and then to manage those risk factors before the disease, condition, or event occurs. This is why there is so much information available regarding the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Periodontal disease is no exception. Identify the biggest risk factor for periodontal disease—namely, the specific bacteria a patient harbors in his or her mouth—and then manage it with an antimicrobial protocol before periodontal disease rears its ugly head.
Patients who have a strong family history of periodontal disease would be an ideal place to start. Since you can reasonably predict that these individuals have some level of elevated risk for periodontal disease, why not find out which oral bacteria they have? And the same for patients with gingivitis who have not yet progressed to periodontitis. If the test shows very few bacteria at low levels, we can conclude that, at this time, the patient is not at risk for the development of periodontal disease, and vice versa. This just makes sense.
Testing for bacteria is not a long or involved process. Next time you go in for your annual cleaning, all you have to do is ask for a cheek swabbing. The dentist will then send those oral tissue cells to a lab to be examined, and usually, you’ll know the results within a week.
Bacterial identification, or DNA-Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, is pretty cool. The testing is based on your body’s natural process of replication. During the test, sections of your DNA can be replicated over and over in just a few hours so that they can be used for different analyses. Even though this testing is high-tech, it is actually a quick and low-cost method.
If you are still on the fence whether or not you should get tested, you may want to also consider how other conditions are connected with periodontal disease. For example, The Dental Tribune just released some interesting information about how gum disease affects brain health:
Recent studies provide increasing evidence that untreated periodontal inflammation is linked to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and that treating periodontitis may reduce or delay risk of this disease. About one out of every nine Americans have some form of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. It is the worst type of dementia, involving the most cognitive decline and memory loss.
Research has already found Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) in brains of Alzheimer’s patients. P. gingivalis is a bacterium associated with chronic periodontitis. Researchers propose that when these bacteria reach the brain, an immune response is stimulated in the brain to release proteins that kill the bacteria, but also cause broader destruction . . .
A study by professor Stjohn Crean and Dr. Sim Singhrao at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) School of Medicine and Dentistry in England involved the examination of brain tissue samples of 10 deceased people with Alzheimer’s and 10 people without it.
It was found that bacteria found in chronic periodontal disease were present in the brains of four of the 10 people with Alzheimer’s but in none of the 10 without it. Researchers theorized that chronic periodontal disease bacteria, P. gingivalis, enter the bloodstream and brain, prompting an immune system response, which over time is thought to contribute to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s isn’t the only condition that is tied to gum disease. If you do a little research you will find that gum disease has been in many studies about heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Because gum diseases cause chronic inflammation and grant bacteria easy access to the bloodstream, it’s no wonder that it’s risk factor!
Although your dentist has your best interests in mind, he or she may not do this test unless you ask for it. And if you know that your family has a history of gum disease, then it’s definitely a good idea to pursue it.