If you thought preventing gum disease only benefits your oral hygiene, think again. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, can be a precursor to more serious health problems far beyond your mouth. It turns out that the health of your gums can dictate long-term health from head to toe.
Millions of Americans currently suffer from gum disease. Symptoms include swollen, red, and sensitive gums. Gum disease is curable if detected early. Preventing gum disease is as simple as flossing regularly, brushing your teeth twice a day, using mouthwash, and getting routine dental checkups.
So how is the condition linked to overall health? Research published on StudyFinds over the years reveals links between gum disease and everything from heart and blood pressure complications to mental health problems. Make sure to visit your dentist regularly to find out the health of your gums and learn ways to prevent periodontal disease.
Here’s an overview of some of the health problems associated with gum disease:
Increases the risk of heart disease
Add gum disease to the growing list of factors that increase your risk of heart disease, according to the findings. The association was stronger the more severe the periodontitis was.
“Our study suggests that dental screening programs, including regular checkups and education about good oral hygiene, can help prevent first and subsequent heart events.” says dr. Giulia Ferrannini of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and author of the study. “We hypothesize that the damage to periodontal tissues in people with gum disease may facilitate the transmission of germs into the bloodstream. This can accelerate harmful changes in the blood vessels and/or amplify systemic inflammation that is harmful to the blood vessels.”
People with gum disease were 49% more likely to have heart problems than people with healthy gums, the study concludes.
READ MORE: Having Gum Disease Increases Your Risk of Future Heart Problems
Risk of developing mental health problems, autoimmune diseases
Poor dental health can also lead to poor mental health, a study shows. Researchers from the University of Birmingham say developing gum disease may also increase the risk of depression and anxiety in years to come. In addition to mental health issues, the study authors found that a history of gum disease can significantly increase the likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and even metabolic disorders such as diabetes.
During the study, researchers examined the medical histories of more than 64,000 people with a history of periodontal disease. This includes gingivitis and periodontitis – a serious gum disease that leads to bleeding gums and can destroy the jawbone without immediate treatment. A total of 60,995 participants had gingivitis and 3,384 periodontitis.
The results show that those with periodontal disease at the start of the study had a 37 percent higher risk of developing mental health problems over the next three years. Study authors note that these problems include higher rates of depression, anxiety and “serious mental illness.”
“A key implication of our findings is the need for effective communication between dental and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive an effective treatment plan that targets both oral and broader health to improve their existing overall health and reduce the risk of future disease,” Co added. -senior author Professor Krish Nirantharakumar.
READ MORE: Gum disease increases risk of developing mental health problems by nearly 40%
Those with gum disease 9x more likely to die from COVID-19
It’s no secret that during COVID-19, patients have been afraid to enter the dental office because of all the tiny particles that can fly through the air. However, for people with gum problems, a cleanse can save their lives. A study shows that patients with gum disease who contract COVID-19 are alarming nine times more likely to die.
An international team finds that COVID patients are three times more likely to end up in intensive care or on a ventilator if they already suffer from periodontitis. About half of the world’s population over the age of 30 suffers from periodontitis. Gum disease causes swelling and bleeding in and around the gums that line the teeth.
If the inflammation is not treated properly, the inflammation can spread throughout the body and even infect the lungs. Coronavirus patients on ventilators may be particularly vulnerable as they are more likely to inhale oral bacteria, scientists say.
“The results of the study suggest that the inflammation in the oral cavity may open the door to the coronavirus becoming more violent,” study co-author Professor Lior Shapira of Hebrew University. “Oral care should be part of health recommendations to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
READ MORE: Patients with gum disease 9 TIMES more likely to die from COVID-19!
From Gums to Gut: Periodontitis Makes IBD Worse
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects about three million people in the United States. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can be the cause of painful and sometimes chronic stomach disorders. One study suggests that problems in your gut can actually start with problems in your mouth. University of Michigan researchers say poor oral hygiene can make a person’s IBD worse.
The study reveals two possible ways bacteria in a patient’s mouth travel to the gut and cause more inflammation. Researcher Nobuhiko Kamada says there is mounting evidence that people with IBD have an overgrowth of foreign bacteria in their gut. That bacteria, Kamada says, usually starts in the mouth.
Researchers say that gum disease causes an unhealthy imbalance in the mouth’s microbiome. That bacteria causes both inflammation and disease that then travel to the gut. This particular process didn’t cause IBD, researchers say, but it did exacerbate symptoms in mice with gut inflammation. “In mice with IBD, healthy gut bacteria are disrupted, weakening their ability to resist disease-causing bacteria from the mouth,” Kamada explains.
The team also says that periodontal disease causes the body’s own immune system to damage the gut. Gum disease causes the immune system to react and send T cells to the mouth to fight infection. In a healthy gut, inflammatory and regulatory T cells work in harmony and tolerate local bacteria. Researchers say that gum disease usually prompts inflammatory T cells to respond. Those cells eventually travel to the gut and disrupt the natural balance, exacerbating disease.
READ MORE: Brush for Your Bowel! Doctors Say Poor Oral Hygiene Can Make IBD Worse
Strong link with high blood pressure
What does swollen, bleeding gums have to do with high blood pressure? Apparently more than you would expect. Research shows that people with gum disease are more likely to have hypertension.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, affecting 30-45% of the population. Likewise, inflammation of the gums, connective tissue and bones that support teeth is present in more than half of the world’s population. Doctors say it’s no coincidence that so many people struggle with both conditions.
Previous research has suggested a link between the two conditions. For the study, researchers collected information from 81 studies conducted in 26 countries. They wanted to determine how often patients with moderate to severe cases of gum disease also have high blood pressure. The results showed that patients with periodontitis tended to have higher arterial blood pressures — on average 4.5 mmHg higher systolic (contracted) and 2 mmHg higher diastolic (resting) blood pressure.
While this may seem like a small number, researchers say a rise in blood pressure by just 5 mmHg increases the risk of death from a heart attack or stroke by 25%. In total, the authors calculated that the risk of hypertension was 22% higher for patients with moderate to severe periodontitis and 49% higher for patients with severe periodontitis.
READ MORE: Gum Disease Has Strong Connection to High Blood Pressure, Study Shows
Gum disease linked to Alzheimer’s disease
Brushing your teeth twice a day will do more than just brush your teeth, it may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, a study finds.
Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway say the bacterium that causes gum disease – P. gingivalis – has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and is believed to significantly increase their chances of developing the condition. Enzymes produced by the bacteria, known as gingipaines, destroy nerve cells in the brain and cause memory loss, before turning into Alzheimer’s disease, the authors say.
For the study, researchers recruited 53 people with Alzheimer’s disease and found the bacteria in the brains of 96% of the participants. Although the bacterium itself does not cause Alzheimer’s, researchers say it plays an important role in its development and may help it evolve faster.
“We found DNA-based evidence that the bacteria that cause gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain,” said study co-author Piotr Mydel, a researcher in the university’s Department of Clinical Sciences.
READ MORE: Brushing Teeth Twice a Day Helps Keep Alzheimer’s Away, Study Finds
As always, talk to your dentist and doctor about any issues with your oral hygiene or any concerns you have with the health issues listed in this article.