Early in the 20th century, dentists and physicians believed that oral infection or sepsis caused or contributed to most human diseases. By mid-century it was apparent that oral infection or sepsis could not explain all of mankindís diseases, and interest in the relationship between oral disease and systemic disease waned. Then in 1989, a series of intriguing reports from Finland indicated that oral infections such as periodontal disease might be a contributor to systemic disease. Modern epidemiologic methodology employing large data sets suggest that there is a significant link between chronic periodontitis in adults and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary disease, and preterm low-birth-weight infants. We are beginning to understand the biologic plausibility of such a relationship, and intervention trials now being conducted provide compelling evidence that treating periodontitis will reduce systemic disease. Clearly, a new role for dental professionals in assuring patientsí total health is quickly emerging.
Ray C. Williams, DMD, is the Straumann Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Periodontology at the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds a specialist certificate in periodontology and oral medicine. He is on the editorial board of three journals, and is chair of the advisory board of a fourth. His major research interests include pharmacologic interception of the progression of periodontal disease; the risk for periodontitis; and periodontitis as a risk for systemic conditions and wound healing around teeth and around dental implants. Dr Williams has authored or co-authored over 200 papers and abstracts on his work.