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There’s more to gum disease than just your gums. Gum disease, often seen as just a dental issue, affects more than your oral health — it’s also been linked to other health conditions. How do we know? Well, research has shed some light on the oral health-overall health connection. 

As your East Vancouver dentist, we want to talk about five of the most common links between gum disease and various health conditions. 

What is Gum Disease?

First, what exactly is gum disease? Also called “periodontal disease”, you can describe gum disease as chronic inflammation of and damage to the gums and bone that support the teeth, typically from poor oral health care habits. (In contrast, check out these tips on the best oral care habits.) 

When the oral bacteria called plaque is left on teeth and hardens into tartar, it can sit at the gumline and infect the gums. Gum disease starts as gingivitis and, at its most severe, can develop into periodontitis. According to a 2022 World Health Organization report, periodontal disease affects about 19 percent of people older than 15 or more than 1 billion people worldwide. Signs of gum disease include:

  • Persistent bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing or sensitive teeth
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums that have pulled away from your teeth
  • Changes in how your teeth fit together when you bite

Is Gum Disease Curable?

So, is gum disease curable? The good news is that you can manage and treat symptoms of gum disease. The not-so-good news is that once you have it, you can’t get rid of it entirely. So reach for that dental floss and remember to brush thoroughly and diligently every time to keep periodontal disease at bay! Twice annual dental check-ups and cleanings are also crucial for preventing gum disease since tartar can only be cleaned away by a dental professional. If you haven’t scheduled your next check-up or cleaning, we’ve got you. Our spa-like, cozy ambiance is paired with high-tech tools for efficient, comfortable care.

Now, what if Dr. Sahi has examined your teeth and sees that, despite your at-home oral care efforts, you have gum disease? We might suggest one of these options for periodontal disease therapy to help alleviate symptoms. In order of least to most invasive, these can include:

  • Oral or topical antibiotics
  • Scaling and/or root planing
  • Flap surgery
  • Dental bone grafts
  • Gum grafts
  • Guided tissue regeneration

But can bad teeth with gum disease really cause health problems? Simply put, yes. And now that you’ve learned more about periodontal disease let’s talk about how it’s connected to certain illnesses.

1. Oral Health and Your Heart

Studies have shown that people with gum disease are more likely to have heart disease. The link? First, your oral bacteria can move from your mouth into your bloodstream; in other words, plaque buildup on your teeth can travel and become arterial plaque buildup. This can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where the arteries narrow, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Second, gum inflammation from periodontal disease can trigger inflammation in other parts of your body and contribute to metabolic syndrome. Ultimately, this can contribute to inflammation in the cardiovascular system.

Third, poor oral health can affect your immune system, contributing to the development of atherosclerosis. 

2. Diabetes: A Two-Way Street

How are gum disease and diabetes related? Well, it goes both directions. Not only are people with diabetes more susceptible to gum disease, but having gum disease can also make diabetes worse. Some research has suggested that people with diabetes are more at risk of contracting infections, including periodontal disease. And periodontal disease affects the body’s ability to control blood sugar. The takeaway? Taking care of your gums might help in managing diabetes.

3. Respiratory Diseases: Breathing Issues

This connection might be surprising. Research has suggested that gum disease might affect your lung health, increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis, and worsen existing emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). How? Oral bacteria in inflamed gums can be inhaled into the lungs, causing infections or aggravating existing lung conditions. 

4. Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Inflammation Link

For those dealing with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the potential link between RA and gum disease is something to consider. Researchers have found oral bacteria in the viscous fluid between the joints of RA patients. It’s possible that oral bacteria travels into the bloodstream, depositing in places like the joints and contributing to inflammation.

5. Alzheimer’s Disease: A Connection Down the Road

See a repeating theme of bacteria and inflammation in the oral health-overall health connection? This also applies to Alzheimer’s disease, with oral bacteria travelling to the brain via the bloodstream and impacting cognition. One of the first studies to look at this link found that severe tooth loss was associated with dementia risk up to 6.4 times higher than for those who lost fewer teeth. Another study found that in 60 patients with mild to moderate dementia, periodontitis was linked to a sixfold increase in cognitive decline. 

Levelling Up Your Oral Health For Your Systemic Health

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to the relationship between your gum health and your overall health. Taking care of your gums and avoiding periodontal disease can help your heart, lungs, and brain, to name a few. Excellent oral care isn’t just about a beautiful smile; it’s also about keeping your whole body healthy.

Your Fraser Street dentist is here to help you stay on top of your oral health. Schedule a check-up and cleaning at Nest Dental today; your body will thank you! 

Sonia Sahi

Author Sonia Sahi

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