Robert J Genco, DDS, PhD and Ray C Williams DMD, have written and published a textbook in collaboration with Colgate. Julian English reports

Periodontal Disease and Overall Health: A Clinician’s Guide looks at the relationship of oral disease to overall disease

For centuries, the role of oral infection and inflammation in contributing to diseases elsewhere in the body has been studied and reported. Going back to ancient times in Greece, we learn that Hippocrates treated two patients suffering from joint pain by removal of teeth.

Clearly, this was an early example of oral disease being associated with afflictions elsewhere in the body. Then, moving forward in time from 1912 to around 1950, the era of ‘focal infection’ dominated thinking.

Reports by individuals such as WD Miller, William Hunter, and Frank Billings noted that in their opinion many of the diseases of humans could be traced to specific foci of infection elsewhere in the body, such as the teeth and gums, the tonsils, or the sinuses.

While these observations were not supported by sound scientific evidence, and in fact led to largely incorrect practices, they nonetheless brought attention to the effect of the mouth on the rest of the body.

Then, in 1989, with a series of intriguing reports from Finland, the current interest in the role of oral health and disease on contributing to general health and systemic conditions was launched. Kimmo Mattila and his co-workers reported that individuals presenting to the emergency room with a myocardial infarction were overwhelmingly likely to have periodontal disease.

Might periodontal disease be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease? Since then, a phenomenal body of work has been directed at understanding how periodontal disease might affect distant sites and organs, and thus have an effect on overall health. Renowned clinicians and scientists worldwide have studied the relationship of periodontal disease to overall health and disease, and along the way several conferences and workshops have been convened to examine the evidence to date for the relationship between periodontal disease and the risk for systemic conditions. At one of those conferences, in January 2008, delegates discussed the need for a textbook that would summarise and put into context the current information on periodontal disease and systemic disease together for students of dentistry.

Colgate agreed to support, through an educational grant to the publisher, the undertaking of the textbook. ‘We were fortunate to have assembled a group of respected and scholarly clinicians and scientists who, in 18 chapters, provide a current and thoughtful perspective on the relationship of periodontal disease to systemic conditions’, say the authors.