Good dental habits have been shown to improve overall health. For liver disease patients, taking care of one’s teeth and gums may be a critical factor in managing this potentially deadly disease. A recent study in the U.K. shows that oral bacterial translocation can cause inflammation and may contribute to a higher risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver.
The Rising Rate of Liver Disease
In the past 40 years in the U.K., liver disease deaths have risen 400 percent. In the U.S. between the years 2000 and 2015, the death rate from cirrhosis and chronic liver disease saw an increase of 31 percent for people 25-44 years of age. According to the CDC and the American Liver Foundation, approximately 31,000 Americans die each year from cirrhosis. The main risk factors in contracting liver disease are alcohol (#1), obesity and viral hepatitis.
What is Periodontitis?
Periodontitis, otherwise known as gum disease, occurs when bacteria causes the gums to become inflamed, which then weakens supporting tissues and causes pockets to develop in the bone. If left untreated, this condition may lead to tooth loss. More than 35 percent of adults have periodontitis, and for 10 to 15 percent, it is severe.
Studying the Link Between Periodontitis and Cirrhosis Complications
The study, conducted by researchers at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, assessed the oral health of 184 cirrhosis patients. Of that number, 44 percent were diagnosed with severe periodontitis (gum disease). They were monitored for about a year, and in that time, nearly half of the study’s participants died. A connection was found between severe gum disease and a higher mortality rate. This proved to be true among all causes of death, but mostly in cases of cirrhosis complications. These findings were made after other risk factors were factored in, including gender, age, cause of cirrhosis, drinking and smoking history, diet and concurrent illnesses.
Gum Disease and Systemic Diseases
Other scientific studies have linked gum disease to various illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes and dementia, in addition to cirrhosis of the liver. Over the years, researchers have suggested that gum disease may be linked to systemic diseases that impact the entire body.
Gum Care and Liver Cirrhosis Outcomes
The findings of this study, showing that poor oral hygiene leading to gum disease may prove to be fatal for patients with liver disease, seems to warrant additional research to determine if there’s a direct link. The lead author of this study, Dr. Lea Ladegaard Gronkjaer, pointed out that since periodontitis can be successfully treated, this should encourage new trials that study the connection between gum disease and liver disease. If a direct link is indeed found, that would confirm that improving a person’s gum care may improve the health outcomes for those with liver cirrhosis.
Until more research is done, it seems safe to say that the state of one’s oral health appears to have health effects that go far beyond the mouth. This recent study is just one more reason to stay on top of your dental hygiene with daily brushing and flossing, and regular visits to your dentist.