Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease (PD), is linked to serious health issues including heart disease, stroke, dementia, diabetes, forms of cancer, and stillbirth. Recent research says that PD is a contributory cause of atherosclerosis. It’s an understatement that good dental hygiene is pivotal to good health.
In honor of dental hygiene month, we’ll share the latest research and information about a saliva test that researchers say could save your life.
High-risk Bacteria's Harmful Cardiovascular Effects
About half of Americans over age 30 have some form of periodontal disease (PD), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). PD ranges from gingivitis to advanced periodontitis, which may cause the teeth to fall out. Unfortunately, periodontal disease increases with age. The CDC says 70% of people over age 65 have it.
You may not notice symptoms of PD in the early stages. Certainly, red, swollen or tender gums, receding gums, bleeding when you brush or floss, loose or sensitive teeth, and persistent bad breath are warning signs. Dentures no longer fitting right or a change in your bite may also indicate PD.
While diet, smoking, and medications contribute greatly to PD, some researchers say the biggest contributor is hereditary. Studies indicate that the harmful cardiovascular effects from PD are due to a few high-risk bacteria.
“The spread of these oral bacteria throughout the body happens quickly,” reads a study showing PD as a cause of heart disease. “This results in acute and chronic inflammation, which can be pathological. High-risk periodontal pathogens include Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans (Aa), Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg), Tannerella forsythia (Tf), Treponema denticola (Td) and Fusobacterium nucleatum (Fn). They are prevalent in periodontitis. These germs enter the systemic circulation directly, and they also produce endotoxins such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS).”
The study says these endotoxins a) generate inflammatory cytokines, which are small proteins that tell the immune system to get working; b) increase cell adhesion molecules (CAM) that have a key role in the inflammatory response in the endothelium, the thin lining inside the heart and blood vessels; and c) create a prothrombotic environment, meaning they increase the risk of blood clots.
The study authors David Vigerust, Bradley Bale, and Amy Doneen say that testing for these high-risk bacteria provides a huge opportunity to reduce arterial disease and other illnesses.
Using Saliva Tests to Reduce Arterial Disease
Drs. Bale and Doneen created the BaleDoneen Method, which uses genetic testing to prevent cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases. They test for the root causes of chronic inflammation in the body. Doctors practicing the BaleDoneen Method use saliva tests to see if you have high-risk bacteria pathogens in your mouth.
“These pathogens get into the bloodstream and can cross into the artery wall,” explains Lora Hooper, dental hygienist and national hygiene educator. “Plaque in your mouth is the same plaque in your arteries and plaque in your brain.”
Hooper is the Care Coordinator/Patient Educator for Dr. Gina Pritchard at The Prevent Clinic, which specializes in reversing cardiovascular disease. A BaleDoneen Method Preceptor, she teaches dental teams how to put oral systemic care into practice, starting with saliva testing. She also teaches patients how to have excellent oral health.
People need to know if their mouth is putting their body at risk, Hooper explains. You cannot change your genetics, but you can prevent periodontal pathogens from harming your body.
“The number one thing I say loud and clear is that everyone should have a saliva test,” Hooper says. “You find out if you have these high-risk pathogens. And if you don’t, great, go celebrate. If you do, how worried we need to be and how aggressively do we need to treat it?”
Many of us will want to get the saliva test, but how do you get it? Here are a few ideas.
- Ask your dentist for the test. Considering sharing the study with them https://pmj.bmj.com/content/93/1098/215. You may also consider paying for the test out-of-pocket; it is inexpensive.
- Find a dentist on the BaleDoneen site: Find a Provider Link
- Find a dentist through the BaleDoneen program saliva testing companies OralDNA or OraVital.
What If Insurance Doesn't Cover Saliva Testing
The saliva test may not be covered by your insurance. Plus, the American Dental Association says a third of Americans don’t even have dental insurance.
If you cannot get the testing now, focus on what you can do. Here are a few tips.
- Brush and floss at least twice a day. Ignore anything you’ve seen about flossing not being important. Studies show that not flossing increases mortality.
- Go to bed with a clean mouth. Your mouth produces less saliva to clean your teeth while you sleep.
- Get your teeth cleaned every three months. Most insurance policies only cover one or two cleanings a year, so you might ask your dentist about out-of-pocket charges (which are often less than insurance charges). Or consider getting cleanings at a dental college. They offer low-cost and free cleanings so students can practice.
- Ask your dentist or hygienist to check for signs of oral infection in your gums, using a mirror and periodontal probe.
- If you have heart disease, push for the high-risk bacteria test even if you don’t have any obvious signs of PD.
- If you are pregnant, push for the test and alert your doctor if you have any signs of PD.