Oral infections and systemic disease—an emerging problem in medicine


Corresponding author and reprint requests: R. Rautemaa, University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine, Haartman Institute, Department of Bacteriology and Immunology, PO Box 21, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
E-mail: riina.richardson@helsinki.fi


The relationship between oral and general health has been increasingly recognised during the past two decades. Several epidemiological studies have linked poor oral health with cardiovascular disease, poor glycaemic control in diabetics, low birth-weight pre-term babies, and a number of other conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Oral infections are also recognised as a problem for individuals suffering from a range of chronic conditions, including cancer and infection with human immunodeficiency virus, as well as patients with ventilator-associated pneumonia. This review considers the systemic consequences of odontogenic infections and the possible mechanisms by which oral infection and inflammation can contribute to cardiovascular disease, as well as the oral conditions associated with medically compromised patients. A large number of clinical studies have established the clinical efficacy of topical antimicrobial agents, e.g., chlorhexidine and triclosan, in the prevention and control of oral disease, especially gingivitis and dental plaque. The possible risks of antimicrobial resistance are a concern, and the benefits of long-term use of triclosan require further evaluation. Oral infections have become an increasingly common risk-factor for systemic disease, which clinicians should take into account. Clinicians should increase their knowledge of oral diseases, and dentists must strengthen their understanding of general medicine, in order to avoid unnecessary risks for infection that originate in the mouth.