On December 23rd, 2023, according to Hillsborough County, Florida Medical Examiner’s Office, Mike Williams, a former wide receiver from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers died from bacterial sepsis linked to poor dental health. Mr. Williams was injured at a work-related construction site in August 2023. Williams was 35 years old.
In this issue, we will discuss how this unfortunate event adds to our body of knowledge about the oral-systemic connection of dental infections.
According to The Medical Examiner’s Report, Mr. William’s death was be caused by “bacterial sepsis with cerebral abscesses and necrotizing pneumonia due to multiple dental caries and retained dental roots.” In laymen terms, this means he suffered from a brain abscess and an aggressive form of pneumonia caused by severely infected and rotted teeth. There was also evidence of severe infection caused by broken and rotted teeth roots still left in the gums.
This heartbreaking turn of events brings to bare the important role periodontists, dentists and hygienists play in educating and informing the public and our patients about this real connection between oral health and overall well-being. The question is, are we getting through?
So, what is the oral-systemic connection?
Scientific research has established a strong link between poor oral health and several systemic conditions, namely, Pneumonia, Heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Pre-term low birth weight babies, Rheumatoid arthritis and Diabetes.
Periodontal (gum) disease, in particular, has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory issues and others. The inflammation and infection caused by untreated gum disease can contribute to systemic inflammation, potentially affecting vital organs.
The bacteria associated with dental diseases, like tooth decay (caries) and gum disease cause an immune system attack resulting in the release of toxins into the blood stream. These toxins or enzymes stimulate a violent local reaction, often time with pus and swelling followed by transport of bacterial wastes to other organ systems. As the inflammation continues, in the heart for example, it can contribute to atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries, which is a hallmark of heart disease.
Mike Williams’ case underscores the importance of regular dental check-ups and prompt treatment of dental problems.Symptoms of oral health concerns usually can go unnoticed if they are not associated with pain. This can cause these problems to get worse, highlighting the need for proactive dental care to prevent complications and suffering. When you neglect your dental health, you are by default creating a quiet storm having long term consequences, while diminishing your quality of life.
Preventive measures, such as regular cleanings, can not only maintain a bright smile by reducing your bacterial load but also contribute to your overall health. Dental professionals are not just concerned with teeth; we play a crucial role in monitoring and addressing potential health issues that may manifest in the oral cavity.
As we reflect on the untimely passing of Mike Williams, let this serve as a powerful reminder to prioritize our oral health. Regular dental check-ups, maintaining good oral hygiene practices, and addressing dental issues promptly are essential steps in safeguarding not only our smiles but our overall well-being.
The link between oral hygiene and brain disease, as in Williams’ demise demonstrates a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of our bodily systems. Prioritizing your oral health isn’t just about maintaining a brilliant smile; it’s about nurturing a healthy body, mind and spirit as well.
Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected].