With estimates of nearly 50 percent of Americans suffering from some level of periodontal disease, dentists are ringing the alarm that periodontal disease (also known as periodontitis) could be a silent killer if not treated properly. Periodontitis has already been found to contribute to everything from heart attack, stroke and cancer to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Now, in a stunning new report, researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology have found further connections between periodontal disease and the chronic, neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis.
"Multiple sclerosis, or MS, damages the nerve cells of the spine and brain," says Bellmore, New York, dentist Dr. Gary Lederman. "It doesn’t seem like an obvious connection, but MS and periodontal disease are both related to inflammation."
In the case of periodontal disease, that inflammation is caused by bacteria in the infected gum tissue, which then enters the bloodstream.
"The link could be the bacteria from the mouth traveling to the damaged nerve cells and causing them to degenerate faster or causing more severe symptoms," Lederman says.
Multiple sclerosis symptoms include lack of muscle coordination, the inability to speak or see, fatigue, and body numbness.
So, what’s a patient to do? Lederman says it's easier than it seems.
"Get in control of your oral health," he says. "If you have MS but have trouble caring for your own teeth, speak to your doctor about your options. If you have untreated periodontal disease or think you might, see your dentist as soon as possible."