When Toronto dentist Uche Odiatu examines a patient with good oral hygiene whose gums are bleeding more than normal during a cleaning or procedure, he views it as a potential red flag.
"I pay careful attention when I see a patient who is brushing properly, flossing and seeing us three or four times a year and yet has this hyper-inflammatory response," says Dr. Odiatu. "I often advise him or her to see a medical doctor and have some blood work done, because it could indicate another systemic disease in the body."
It is all part of the connections between the health of the mouth and the broader health of the body – connections that Dr. Odiatu is passionate about researching and sharing with his patients, as well as with fellow dental professionals and the public.
As an author, international lecturer and adviser to patients in his practice, one of his goals is to raise awareness of the expanding scientific evidence about the role of inflammation in disease.
"Inflammation is a key player in a number of major diseases, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, other autoimmune diseases and more," he says. "Almost anything that increases the inflammatory load in the body increases the chances of chronic, degenerative illness – and one of the most prevalent, chronic inflammatory diseases is periodontal disease."
The mouth is the gateway to the body, and with the blood vessels in the gums connected to all the blood vessels in the body, bacteria from a poorly cleaned mouth may be carried throughout the bloodstream, explains Dr. Odiatu.
In the case of the patient described earlier, inflamed gums in an otherwise healthy mouth may signal systemic inflammation, which means the person could have or be at risk of developing a systemic illness. There is also compelling evidence that good oral hygiene helps to protect the entire body from illness and contributes to overall health and well-being. Clinical studies have shown that using a power toothbrush – such as the Sonicare, with its two-minute timer – is an easy first step in a healthy direction.
Dr. Odiatu points to a recent study by a large U.S. insurance company, which researched the impact of providing more dental care (professional cleanings and gum care) to 90,000 clients with diabetes. Over three years, the group recorded 33 per cent fewer hospitalizations and 13 per cent fewer physician visits.
This ground-breaking research is a "powerful indicator that if people – in this case, people with diabetes – can reduce inflammation in their mouths, there is less chance they will have medical complications," he says.
"As dentists and hygienists, I believe we can help people lower the inflammatory burden in their bodies," adds Dr. Odiatu.