If you thought preventing gum disease was just for the good of your oral hygiene, think again. Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, can be a prelude to more serious health problems that go well beyond the mouth. As it turns out, the health of your gums can determine long-term health from head to toe.
Millions of Americans currently suffer from gum disease. Symptoms include swollen, red, and tender gums. Gum disease is curable if caught early. Avoiding gum disease is as simple as regular flossing, brushing twice a day, rinsing your mouth, and routine dental check-ups.
So how does the condition relate to overall health? Research published on StudyFinds over the years shows links between gum disease and everything from heart and blood pressure complications to mental health issues. Visit your dentist regularly to learn about the health of your gums and learn ways to prevent periodontal disease.
Here’s a look at some of the health issues associated with gum disease:
Increases risk of heart disease
Add gum disease to the growing list of factors that increase your risk of heart disease, according to the results. The correlation was stronger the more severe the periodontitis was.
“Our study suggests that preventive dental programs, including regular checkups and education about proper dental hygiene, can help prevent first and subsequent cardiac events.” Giulia Ferrannini from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and author of the study. “We hypothesize that damage to periodontal tissue in people with gum disease may facilitate the transmission of germs into the bloodstream. This could accelerate damaging changes in the blood vessels and/or increase systemic inflammation that is damaging to the vessels.”
The study concludes that people with gum disease were 49% more likely to have heart problems than those with healthy gums.
READ MORE: Gum disease increases risk of future heart problems
Risk of developing mental health problems, autoimmune diseases
Poor dental health can also lead to poor mental health, according to a study. Researchers from the University of Birmingham say that developing gum disease can also increase a person’s risk of suffering from depression and anxiety in the years to come. In addition to mental health issues, study authors found that a history of gum disease can significantly increase a person’s likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and even metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Researchers examined the medical histories of more than 64,000 people with a history of periodontitis during the study. These include gingivitis and periodontitis — a serious inflammation of the gums that causes bleeding gums and can destroy the jawbone without prompt treatment. A total of 60,995 participants had gingivitis and 3,384 had periodontitis.
The results show that those who had 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 dentists and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive an effective treatment plan that targets both oral health and overall health to improve their existing overall health and.” to reduce the risk of future diseases,” adds Co.-senior author Professor Krish Nirantharakumar.
READ MORE: Gum disease increases risk of developing mental health problems by nearly 40%
People with gum disease are 9 times more likely to die from COVID-19
It’s no secret that during COVID-19, patients were afraid to enter the dentist’s office because of all the tiny particles that can fly through the air. However, for people with gum problems, a cleaning could actually save their lives. A study finds that patients with gum disease who contract COVID-19 are alarming nine times rather 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 have periodontitis. Around 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 your teeth.
If not treated properly, the inflammation can spread throughout the body and even infect the lungs. Coronavirus patients on ventilators could be particularly at risk because they’re more likely to breathe in oral bacteria, scientists say.
“The results of the study suggest that inflammation in the oral cavity could open the door for the coronavirus to become more violent,” said study co-author Professor Lior Shapira of the Hebrew University. “Oral care should be part of health recommendations to reduce the risk of serious consequences from COVID-19.”
READ MORE: Patients with gum disease are 9 times more likely to die from COVID-19!
From the gums to the gut: Periodontitis makes IBD worse
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects approximately three million people in the United States. An imbalance in the microbiome of the gut can be at the root of painful and sometimes chronic stomach upset. A study suggests that problems in the gut may actually start with problems in the mouth. University of Michigan researchers say poor oral hygiene can make a person’s IBD worse.
The study highlights two possible ways bacteria in a patient’s mouth can enter 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. This bacteria, says Kamada, usually starts in the mouth.
Researchers say gum disease causes an unhealthy imbalance in the mouth’s microbiome. This bacterium causes both inflammation and disease, which then travels to the gut. This particular process doesn’t trigger IBD, researchers say, but it did make symptoms worse in mice with colon inflammation. “In mice with IBD, the healthy gut bacteria are disrupted, which weakens their ability to resist disease-causing bacteria from the mouth,” explains Kamada.
The team also say that periodontitis actually causes the body’s immune system to damage the gut. When gum disease occurs, the immune system reacts and sends T cells to the mouth to fight infection. In a healthy gut, inflammatory and regulatory T cells work in harmony and know how to tolerate local bacteria. Researchers say gum disease primarily triggers inflammatory T cells to respond. These cells eventually migrate to the gut and upset the natural balance, making disease worse.
READ MORE: Brush your gut! Doctors say poor oral hygiene can make IBD worse
Strong connection to high blood pressure
What does swollen, bleeding gums have to do with high blood pressure? Apparently more than expected. Research shows that people with gum disease are more likely to have high blood pressure.
Hypertension is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, affecting 30% to 45% of the population. Likewise, more than half of the world’s population suffers from inflammation of the gums, connective tissue and bones that support teeth. Doctors say it’s no coincidence that so many people struggle with both conditions.
Previous research has suggested a link between the two diseases. For the study, the researchers gathered information from 81 studies conducted in 26 countries. They wanted to find out how often patients with moderate to severe gum disease also have high blood pressure. The results showed that patients with periodontitis tended to have higher arterial blood pressure – an average of 4.5 mmHg higher systolic (contracted) and 2 mmHg higher diastolic (resting) blood pressure.
Although this may seem like a small number, researchers say that just a 5 mmHg increase in blood pressure increases the risk of death from heart attack or stroke by 25%. Overall, the authors calculated that the likelihood of developing hypertension was 22% higher in patients with moderate to severe periodontitis and 49% higher in patients with severe periodontitis.
READ MORE: Gum disease has a strong link to high blood pressure, study finds
Gum disease associated with Alzheimer’s disease
Brushing your teeth twice a day will do more than just clean your teeth, it may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway say the bacterium that causes gingivitis – P. gingivalis – has been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and is thought to significantly increase their chances of developing the disease. Enzymes produced by the bacteria, known as gingipains, destroy nerve cells in the brain and cause memory loss before turning into Alzheimer’s, the authors say.
For the study, the researchers recruited 53 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and found the bacteria in the brains of 96% of the participants. Although the bacterium doesn’t itself cause Alzheimer’s, researchers say it plays an important role in its development and may also cause it to progress more quickly.
“We found DNA-based evidence that the bacteria that cause gingivitis can migrate from the mouth to the brain,” says study co-author Piotr Mydel, a researcher from the university’s Department of Clinical Science.
READ MORE: Brushing your teeth twice a day helps keep Alzheimer’s disease away, study finds
As always, consult your dentist and doctor if you have any issues with your oral hygiene or concerns about any of the health issues listed in this article.