Long viewed as a condition of concern to dentists and periodontists alone, periodontal disease is an infectious disease with potentially significant systemic health implications.
This was a major conclusion from today's meeting of the National Periodontal Disease Coalition (NPDC), which met June 15- 16 to explore the relationship between the presence of specific oral bacteria and overall health.
Formed by Oral Health America in 2004, the NPDC is made up of doctors, dentists, academics, insurance companies and public policy experts who have spent the last six months investigating health issues surrounding periodontal disease.
At the Coalition's New York meeting, Dr. Moise Desvarieux, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, presented groundbreaking research showing strong evidence of a relationship between specific periodontal bacteria and carotid intima-media thickness, a leading predictor of stroke. Previous studies relied on surrogate markers of bacterial infection.
"Periodontal disease is no longer just about teeth," Dr. Desvarieux noted. "It's about the whole body. Increasingly, we are seeing physicians talk to their patients about oral bacteria and gum disease. The boundaries that used to exist between medicine, dentistry and public health are beginning to crumble."
While the Coalition acknowledged the need for additional research to further investigate causality between oral bacteria and overall health, many members called for increased access to patient education, broad-based screening and prevention programs. Several members also urged employers to initiate worksite screening and wellness programs.
"Having a standard diagnostic procedure and treatment recommendations are critical steps toward improving a patient's overall oral and systemic health," notes Robert J. Klaus, President and CEO of Oral Health America. "Despite the prevalence of periodontal disease among adults, it is still under-diagnosed and under-treated, putting patients at risk for systemic disease."
Because of the evidence linking specific oral bacteria to serious conditions of the heart and other body organs, the Coalition stressed the importance of early detection and prevention. "Increasingly, the medical community is recognizing the importance of dental screening and treatment to overall patient health," Klaus noted. "The extraordinary prevalence of periodontal disease makes its impact on systemic health very important."
In recognition of this evidence, New York Governor George Pataki issued a proclamation yesterday, identifying June as Periodontal Disease Awareness Month.
"Periodontal disease not only causes pain and suffering for the individual but costs New York government, citizens and businesses significant amounts of money in direct medical costs as well as absenteeism and lost productivity," Pataki notes. "New York State government is pleased to join with healthcare providers...to increase the public's awareness and understanding of periodontal disease and new methods for its treatment."
Oral Health America is the nation's premier independent organization devoted to oral health. For more information, please visit www.oralhealthamerica.org.