Oral health and . . . kidney disease?
It may seem an unlikely combination, but the link between oral health and overall health has become increasingly clear in recent years, with new implications emerging almost daily. DCG Associate Dean for Research Christopher Cutler recently obtained a $500,000 grant from the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust Foundation to drill down on the link between oral health and the success of kidney transplantations. “We’ve long understood that oral infections can compromise transplant success,” says Cutler. “Patients must be cleared by a dentist to rule out an oral infection before having a kidney transplant to optimize the chance of a successful outcome.”
But Cutler, who chairs the DCG Department of Periodontics, thinks an even higher degree of vigilance —more frequent dental visits, for instance — may be required. For the study, Augusta University Health kidney patients — both those awaiting kidney transplantations and those who already have them — will be referred to Cutler and his colleagues for full-mouth exams, treatment of any problems, education about the importance of good oral hygiene and follow-up visits for four years. “Transplant patients are very vulnerable to begin with,” Cutler notes. “If you superimpose on top of that a chronic or acute infection, the risk of death increases, and the likelihood increases that the transplant will fail.”
He hopes his study produces the data needed to develop a nationwide oral health treatment protocol for transplant patients.
Cutler also will study dental plaque and gum tissue from transplant patients with periodontal disease to try to determine why kidney patients — both those on dialysis and those who already have had a transplant — have a higher-than-normal incidence of oral infections. He theorizes that the culprit is the inflammation resulting from bacteria entering the bloodstream. “We think oral infections may become systemic more easily in transplant patients, and the better we can understand why, the better we can prevent the infections,” he says.
He is gratified the Mason Trust Foundation, with a 17-year-history of generously funding health research, recognizes the importance of oral health to overall health. And “this research is absolutely generalizable to all transplant patients,” Cutler says, “so the implications are significant.”