As research continues, link between oral and systemic health gets clearer

Fotinos S. Panagakos, D.M.D., Ph.D.

For over 30 years, researchers have been studying the role oral health plays on overall health. Much of this research has focused on determining the relationship between periodontal disease and systemic diseases such as diabetes. And while research on this continues through today, enough is known to safely say that the presence of periodontal disease is associated with diabetes.  Through existing studies, researchers have come to believe that the inflammation from the infected gum tissue enters the blood stream and affects a variety of organ systems. In a patient with diabetes, this results in a higher HbA1c level and impaired ability to control serum glucose. Findings also suggest that a patient with diabetes is twice as likely to develop gum disease as someone without it, and identify diabetes as a risk factor for periodontal disease.

It seems there are important benefits to understanding this link. Studies have demonstrated that when a patient with periodontal disease is treated by a dental professional, their HbA1c levels, as well as overall serum glucose levels, show improvement. Recently, work by Drs. Lalla and Lamster at Columbia University, demonstrated that patients who visit the dentist can be accurately screened for diabetes and pre-diabetes. These results further the proposition of the dental office being a critical link in the primary healthcare chain, and that dental professionals can help screen for diabetes, and potentially other systemic diseases, resulting in patients getting care sooner.

Colgate has long-been actively involved in the education of health professionals regarding the relationship between oral health and overall health. Our partnership with Research!America has resulted in publication of a series of fact sheets on oral health, the latest covering the relationship specifically between periodontal disease and diabetes. Colgate will continue these efforts in the future. Improving health professionals’ understanding of this critical relationship will result in better care for patients.

Fotinos S. Panagakos, D.M.D., Ph.D., is Global Director, Scientific Affairs for Colgate-Palmolive Company.

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You can change the image of things to come. But you can’t do it sitting on your hands … The science community should reach out to Congress and build bridges.
The Honorable John E. Porter