January is coming to an end, but we couldn’t close out the month without mentioning Glaucoma Awareness! Did you know that glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the US? January is National Glaucoma Awareness month, and recent research has pointed to a link between your oral health and risks for developing glaucoma. Read on for information about how your teeth can affect your eye health, and a few simple steps you can take to keep your eyes healthy!
What Is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a blanket term for several diseases that affect the optic nerve. While the details of each type of glaucoma vary, the outcome is generally the same: increased pressure inside the eye, damage to the nerve that connects the eye to the brain, and eventual vision loss and possibly complete blindness.
Although glaucoma is one of the leading causes of vision loss in the US, many people are unaware they have it. In fact, estimates point to about half of those with glaucoma aren’t aware of their condition. That’s because glaucoma usually has no symptoms in its early stages. It progresses slowly over time, and the changes are so gradual that they slip by unnoticed until irreversible damage has already been done.
Glaucoma can develop for a variety of reasons. Blunt trauma or chemical injuries to the eyes, severe eye infections, and blocked blood vessels may interfere with proper regulation of pressure within the eye. Some cases are genetic, and others happen for reasons that can’t be determined precisely.
Systemic health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk for developing glaucoma. Other risk factors include:
- Over 40 years of age
- Family history of glaucoma
- African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage
- Thin corneas
- Long-term use of steroid medications
- History of poor blood circulation, migraines, or other chronic health problems
And soon, we may be able to add history of periodontal disease to that list!
How Are Glaucoma and Oral Health Related?
Studies reaching back over the course of nearly a decade suggest a significant link between glaucoma and gum disease. Growing evidence makes a strong case that poor oral health increases your risk for developing glaucoma. In general, researchers have concluded that there is a significant relationship between chronic periodontitis (severe gum disease) and glaucoma risk.
There are several possible explanations for this connection. First, we know that the chronic inflammation triggered by periodontal disease affects other areas of the body. The inflammation involved in the development of gum disease sends compounds throughout the body that can trigger the same process in other tissues. This includes the sensitive tissues involved with the eyes, such as those surrounding the optic nerve. Inflamed tissues in the ear, nose, or throat area can put pressure on the optic nerve, triggering the development of glaucoma and other vision problems.
Another possibility is that bacteria from an infected tooth or inflamed gums can spread to the optic nerve directly, creating an infection of the nerve tissue directly. Because of how close these delicate structures are throughout the head and neck, dental infections pose a serious risk to many other vital systems.
How Can You Prevent Vision Loss from Glaucoma?
First and foremost, get your regular eye exams! Just like you should check in with your dentist at least twice per year (or more, if your dentist recommends it), you should also see your eye doctor regularly. The exact timeframe depends on many factors, such as your age and vision needs, but if it’s been a while there is no time like the present to get checked out and get on a regular schedule!
While better oral health won’t eliminate your risks of developing glaucoma entirely, it will definitely help! Reducing inflammatory markers by repairing or preventing gum disease helps protect all areas of your body, including the structures involved in vision. Likewise, controlling oral bacteria means less risk of those bacteria spreading to other areas to cause problems.
Our advice for reducing your bacterial load and inflammation should come as no surprise. Brush twice each day for two minutes, floss once a day, and get your regular dental cleanings and oral health exams! We’re always here to help guide you in establishing excellent home care habits which will help protect your oral health and overall wellbeing.
On top of taking great care of your teeth at home, your hygienist here at Lake Baldwin Dental will periodically measure your gum tissue. This gives us an exact metric of how healthy your gums are, so we can take active steps to counteract gingivitis as soon as it pops up.
While you’re here, be sure to advise your dental healthcare team of any chronic health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Keep us updated on your regular medications, too! Systemic diseases and regular medications can impact your oral health as well as your eye health and other areas of the body.
As always, here at LBD we believe in supporting all areas of your health. That includes your eyes! If you have any concerns about your oral health, risks for gum disease, or how your periodontal health may be affecting other areas of your body, don’t be afraid to ask! Schedule your next dental health exam today and keep those peepers healthy, Orlando!