Oral and overall health: clearing up the confusion


For several years dental researchers have been studying and reporting on links between oral and overall health, but study evidence often seems to offer conflicting information. This article aims to clear up that confusion.

After many initial studies suggested a strong association between periodontal disease and preterm low birth weight deliveries,1 an evidence-based review of all available intervention studies concluded that any potential interaction between these two conditions was minimal at best.2 More recently, an American Heart Association (AHA) review similarly suggested that the link between periodontal disease and atherosclerotic vascular disease (AVSD) may not be as robust as originally thought.3 The AHA concluded that “there is no evidence that periodontal intervention prevents ASVD or modifies its outcomes”. While admittedly contradictory, association studies support a strong link between periodontal disease and many systemic diseases, while intervention studies do not support a systemic benefit from periodontal therapy. Conflicting evidence has the potential to create confusion among practising clinicians concerning how to incorporate systemic health considerations into existing dental protocols. The intent of this article is to clear up that confusion.

Within the profession, conflicting evidence on the relationship between oral and overall health seems to be fuelling a developing struggle between those who believe that what happens in the mouth can affect the rest of the body and those who conclude that the most recent research dispels any notion that periodontal disease has systemic ramifications.4 One side is aggressively incorporating systemic disease risk management into their dental practices and suggesting to patients that adhering to treatment recommendations may also improve overall health. Meanwhile, those advocating an evidence-based approach opine that without stronger evidence no such claims should be made. Both groups are missing the point.

Journal of the Irish Dental Association 2012/2013; 58 (6): 305-307

Timothy Donley
727 US31W ByPass #111
Bowling Green KY  42101