The Risks that Poor Oral Health Might Share with Open Angle Glaucoma

Poor oral health reaches far beyond the mouth.

We’ve written about how it can make it harder for a person with diabetes to control their blood sugar. It can also cause respiratory infections and contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

It might also be bad on the eyes.

Guilty by Association: The Link between Poor Oral Health and Open Angle Glaucoma

A recent study suggests poor oral health could signify an increased risk of open angle glaucoma. Open angle glaucoma—sometimes referred to as primary open angle glaucoma or POAG — is the most common type. It is caused when aqueous fluid drains too slowly from a part of the eye called the trabecular meshwork. As a result, pressure builds up in the eye. Left untreated for too long, it can lead to blindness.

The Ophthalmology Times, an eye care section of The Modern Medicine Network, recently reported a link between periodontal disease and open angle glaucoma.

According to the article, researchers analyzed 26 years’ worth of data, categorizing participants as either having good or poor oral health. Then they compared the rates of open angle glaucoma in the two groups.

glaucoma-400-484846168Their findings: Participants who had lost one tooth or more had a 45 percent higher chance of open angle glaucoma than those who had not lost a tooth. Likewise, participants who had presented with periodontal disease and had lost one tooth or more in the past two years had an 85 percent higher chance of open angle glaucoma.

The Research Is In: The Problems the Two Might Have in Common

The association, according to the researchers, could be due to impaired blood flow and endothelial dysfunction.

Impaired blood flow. Blood flow supplies your gums and eyes with nutrients and oxygen, which your gums and eyes need. Impaired blood flow makes it harder for the gums to fight infection. It can also affect the cornea, the part of your eye that refracts light and thus helps you see.

Endothelial dysfunction. Aside from being a 10-dollar word, the word endothelial refers to your blood and lymphatic vessels. These vessels constrict or dilate. When they constrict, blood pressure increases, and when they dilate, blood pressure decreases. Endothelial dysfunction refers to an imbalance between constriction and dilation. Gum inflammation has been linked to this imbalance, and an imbalance of blood flow can put more pressure on the eyes.

Four Habits that Will Help You Effectively Prevent Gum Disease

According to the poor oral health/open angle glaucoma study, more work needs to be done to verify whether an association exists.

Still, it’s always a good idea to maintain good oral health. To prevent gum disease, build these four habits into your routine:

  1. Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can rinse away food particles that have stuck around, and can ensure proper saliva production. If you’re on several types of medication, you’ll want to keep the latter in mind, as the medications might dry out your mouth. Pro-tip: Drink tap water. Tap water contains fluoride, which strengthens enamel and can protect your teeth against plaque and other malignant bacteria.
  2. Eat healthy. Cut out sugar and white flour from your diet. Replace these with fruits and vegetables like pears, apples, carrots and celery, which can stimulate the gums or at least prevent them from receding. Foods rich in protein like cheese and nuts can restore proper pH levels in your mouth.
  3. Brush twice a day and floss daily. This is, of course, a routine everyone should have. We’ve written about best practices for brushing and flossing.
  4. Visit your dentist. Schedule at least two checkups a year with your dentist. Communicate the kinds of medication you’re taking, and any issues with your gums and teeth.

Three Useful Steps to Treat Glaucoma

If you have glaucoma, you can follow these steps:

  1. Get organized. If you’ve been diagnosed with glaucoma, chances are you’ll be taking a few medications. Learn what those medications are, what time you need to take them and how many times a day you need to take them. The more you can build this into your routine, the better your chances of preventing further vision loss.
  2. Monitor the disease. The easiest way to prevent further vision loss is to monitor the disease. Schedule an appointment for a dilated eye exam if you’re 40 or older. If you’ve already been diagnosed, keep in regular contact with your eye doctor. Check in with your eye doctor at least once a year.
  3. Let your doctor know about your medications. Regular checkups are important, not only with your eye doctor, but with all doctors. Make sure to communicate the types of medications you’ve been prescribed, as well as how they make you feel. For example, some medications can leave you fatigued. Let your doctors know, so the medications can help you rather than hurt.

Open angle glaucoma is dangerous. It doesn’t come with any symptoms, except for slow vision loss, and it doesn’t have a cure.

But if you catch it early enough, treatments can help. That’s why organizations like Prevent Blindness have worked to raise awareness by declaring January National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Practicing good oral health could be one easy way to start preventing the disease.

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