Q: Dr. Crapo: I’m twenty-nine years old. I’ve got two children, the last one born prematurely and small for his age. I tell you this because it had been about five years since I’d seen the hygienist and she told me I had severe gum disease that could not only cost me my teeth, but could be the reason I feel a bit rundown. When the dentist came in he said that he’d heard recently in a seminar that general health could be affected as well as heart disease and premature birth in mothers with infected gums. Now I feel guilty because he said these premature babies often didn’t thrive and might be stunted in their growth and development all their lives. When I heard that I became angry. I know it was my own fault but I haven’t had money to get regular check-ups and well, I never knew. When I’d complained to my mother that I had no energy and felt ill most days, she said it was just young mother blues. Why didn’t my doctor warn me? Does he know? Is this stuff new? My parents helped me get the gum disease under control and my life is back. Can you give me more detail?
A: What you’ve described has been anecdotal for decades but those who dared declare it, were given little credibility and shunned as self-serving. The reason is that health practitioners in the dental and medical field don’t see a one to one correlation in their patients. In other words, all mothers with gum disease don’t give birth to premature babies that are weak, frail and small all their lives. The connection has just not been made.
I have seen a good number whose health improved dramatically after oral disease was eliminated, but I don’t recall in thirty-four years of practice, seeing a mother with periodontal disease give birth to a premature baby.
However, as uncommon as it may seem here are some sobering facts that demand our attention and we must be vigilant as health practitioners. Good scientific studies are linking periodontal disease with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, pregnancy complications, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, wrinkly skin and erectile dysfunction.
In an 18-year study, people with gum disease - twice as likely to die from heart attack; three times more likely to die from stroke. If you have diabetes and your gums bleed, chances of dying can increase 400 to 700 percent. More than 30,000 Americans, die yearly of pancreatic cancer. Harvard studied 63,000 male health care professionals. Those with periodontal disease - 62% increase in pancreatic cancer. Dr. Oz reports that regular flossing can add up to 6 ½ years to your life. He also noted only one woman in seven with gum disease will give birth to a healthy child that will grow to normal size. Pass the word along.