A very large number of people in the U.S. currently suffer from some kind of gum disease. But while there are differently levels of severity, they all need to be treated as soon as possible because more and more evidence is showing that this problem isn’t limited to your mouth. Periodontal disease could be tied to several other potential problems throughout the entire body.
A Gum Disease Overview
Periodontal disease is caused by the bacteria in your mouth. When they combine with the sugars from the things you eat, they start to form plaque on your teeth. If it isn’t removed, it hardens into tarter, which you can’t just brush away at home.
The bacteria can cause inflammation in the gums called gingivitis, which can be spotted by red, swollen gums that are prone to bleeding. This is a mild form of gum disease, and you can quickly reverse it by improving home dental care and regular dentist visits.
The next step up is periodontal disease. When this happens, the gums pull away from the teeth and form gum pockets where the infections can set in. Bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infections will start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold the teeth in place.
How Periodontal Disease Connects to the Body
The exact connection between gum disease and other ailments remains unclear, but one of the most prevalent theories is that oral bacteria are escaping into the bloodstream where it can play havoc with other organs in the body.
Whatever the actual connection is, scientists have found links between periodontal disease and several other health issues, including:
- Heart disease – This is the one you’ve probably heard about the most, and studies do indicate that there may be a link here. People with gum disease appear more likely to have poor heart health or experience heart attacks. More specifically, endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart) can occur when bacteria or other germs from another part of the body get into the blood stream and attach to damaged areas in the heart.
- Diabetes – Gum disease does not cause diabetes, but diabetes seems to contribute to the possibility of gum disease. People who don’t have their diabetes under control are at a higher risk of gum disease because diabetes can reduce the body’s resistance to infections.
- Dementia – Studies have suggested that periodontitis could contribute to everything from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s. At the very least, in memory and calculation tests, people who had the worst gum disease scored the worst.
- Osteoporosis – This disease may affect your oral health because it causes the bones to become brittle and weak. This, then, can lead to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – People with arthritis seem to be more likely to have gum disease and lose teeth. However, there is no link that shows how one might cause the other, but inflammation is again the common characteristic.
- Premature birth – There have been conflicting results in regards to this issue. Some tests have shown there is a link between gum disease and premature birth/low birth weight, but some have not drawn that conclusion. However, treating gum disease may help women carry babies to term.
A Little Effort for a Lot of Health
So if gum disease is really linked to all these other health issues, what, exactly can you do about it? Well, the answer is pretty simple. We (as in “dentists”) have been telling people to do it all along.
Take care of your teeth. Come in and see us for a regular checkup. Don’t let the plaque start to build up and you won’t have to worry about how it may be affecting the rest of your body. Brushing and flossing may seem like a little thing, but they can have a big impact on your health.