Glaucoma and your oral health: Is there a link?
Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness around the world1 — far more common than people might think. But despite the fact it is so widespread, we are still learning more about it.
Researchers are studying if the body’s immune response to inflammation from oral infections, such as gum disease, may also play a role in eye disease. They are trying to determine if gum disease could increase the risk for glaucoma or make it worse.
With this possible connection in mind, let’s look at glaucoma and its potential link to oral health.
An estimated 3 million Americans suffer from glaucoma, but only half know they have it.2
First things first: What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a chronic, progressive eye disease caused by damage to the optic nerve. It slowly creates vision loss and can eventually lead to blindness. While most people have heard of glaucoma, many are unaware of how it is caused:
Glaucoma results from damage to the optic nerve, which relays messages from your eyes to your brain.
Damage to the optic nerve is most often a result of abnormally high pressure in the eye. The cause of this pressure can vary — examples include your eye not draining properly, age, genetics, injuries, certain medications, and diseases, including infections in your ears, nose, or mouth.
Glaucoma often has no symptoms or warning signs. The onset of the disease can be gradual, and you may not notice anything wrong until the condition has advanced. But even though there is no way to prevent glaucoma, regular eye exams can help your eye care professional discover it earlier — and if you catch it early, you can work with your healthcare team to slow (or even stop) further damage.
1 in 10,000 babies in the U.S. will be born with glaucoma — any age group can suffer from the disease and it is not just a concern for older adults.3
Does glaucoma relate to oral health?
The truth is that more research needs to be done. But if recent findings prove to be true, oral infections such as gum disease may be another risk factor to be aware of as you protect your eye health.
What has been proven is that certain medications can worsen existing glaucoma and increase risk for those who don’t have it. Some of those medications are used in dentistry, so if you have glaucoma, make sure to let your dentist know.
Other connections between your oral health and overall health
Some may find the potential link between glaucoma and gum disease surprising, but the truth is that your oral health and total well-being are closely intertwined. Researchers have found links between gum disease and numerous health issues including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, systemic lupus, Crohn’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.
It’s a simple truth that your dental health and your overall health cannot be separated. If you become aware of any new symptoms or conditions, or if you begin any new medications, make sure to inform your physician and dentist to proactively avoid unexpected complications.
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