Candy hearts – the tried and true method of demonstrating your affection for someone on Valentine’s Day. As the years have gone by, the phrases may have been updated to fit modern slang, but the message remains the same: “I like you!”
If the elements that make up your body could give candy hearts to one another on Valentine’s Day, would they? One thing’s for sure, if you’re keeping up to date on your oral health and treatment of gum disease, your mouth is sure to have a full box of love notes on the big day. Why? Because of the connection between gum disease and other illnesses.
85% of U.S. adults have some form of gum disease – whether it be run-of-the-mill gingivitis or a severe form of periodontitis that can lead to loss of teeth. In addition to the aesthetic disadvantages of missing teeth and receding gums, loss of natural teeth has actually been tied to a reduced life expectancy. But wait – there’s more! People often underestimate the connection between gum disease and other illnesses. Yes, what happens in your mouth can lead to problems with your heart, brain, weight, sexual health and fertility – even cancer.
Here’s the Valentine to your healthy mouth from the rest of your body.
“For not creating inflamed arteries!”
Hardened, or swollen, arteries are a symptom of heart disease and decrease the flow of blood to your heart, which can lead to a heart attack. This swelling and inflammation can occur as a result of many factors, but one of them is gum disease. When gum disease in the mouth is left untreated, it can travel via vascular pathways in the mouth to other areas of the body, including the arteries that lead back to the heart.
“For brainy thinking in gum disease treatment!”
Severe gum disease sufferers were at a heightened risk for ischemic stroke, especially men and those over 60. An ischemic stroke is a type of stroke caused by a blocked blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain. Similar to heart disease, untreated gum disease bacteria can travel from the mouth to arteries leading to the brain, which can lead to stroke.
Alzheimer’s and dementia may also be a complication from gum disease, wherein bacteria travel to the brain, triggering the body’s immune system to attack, which in turn kills brain cells. The diminishing number of brain cells leads to confusion and memory loss. Current research shows those with chronic gum disease for 10+ years increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 70%.
“For keeping all of us healthy!”
Both the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) and American Dental Association (ADA) have cited research that men with swollen gums – an early sign of gum disease – are at risk for lung, kidney, pancreatic, and blood cancers when compared to men with healthy gums. When it comes to prostate cancer, men with both gum disease symptoms and prostatitis demonstrated higher levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which causes prostate cancer, than men who had only one of these conditions. Research also found that treatment of gum disease reduced prostatitis symptoms.
As for women, a recent study on women who had gum disease found that 14% of the overall group had an increased risk of breast cancer over women who didn’t have gum disease. The percentage jumps to over 30% if the woman smokes, or has smoked in the past 20 years. More research is needed to see if there is a connection between the inflammation gum disease causes and the development of breast cancer.
Your Blood Sugar
“For not contributing to problems regulating glucose levels!”
People with diabetes are more likely to develop severe gum disease, and lose more teeth than those without diabetes. Gum disease also leads to difficulties in diabetics regulating their glucose levels. These co-existing conditions create a circular relationship in which the inability to control glucose levels provides an environment for the bacteria that cause gum disease (which thrive on sugars) to grow. Experts agree that controlling blood sugar levels decreases the risk of gum disease, and decreases complications from diabetes.
Your Sexual Health & Fertility
“For helping us get pregnant and keep baby and mom healthy!”
Pregnant women are already likely to have gum disease due to hormonal changes. Studies have shown that women with severe gum disease left untreated during pregnancy are more susceptible to going into labor early. This means that gum disease can lead to having your baby prematurely and make your infant more at risk for birth defects and even death. Other pregnancy complications with suggested links to gum disease are fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia.
Gum disease may have an impact on even getting pregnant in the first place. More research needs to be done, but studies show that women with fertility issues like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome are much more likely to have gum disease.
Before conception, men’s fertility is impacted by gum disease as well. Untreated gum disease can lower sperm count dramatically and cause them to be sluggish swimmers, and men with severe gum disease were more likely to have trouble with erectile dysfunction.
“For making sure we stay healthy and strong!”
The biggest commonality between gum disease and osteoporosis is in post-menopausal women. While both diseases are more common in older patients, the prevalence is even greater in older women. The reduction of estrogen produced by the body after menopause, e.g. the risk factor of “hormone changes”, impacts both diseases. Post-menopausal women have greater alveolar bone loss (gum disease) and less bone density (osteoporosis) than women who are still menstruating.
Periodontal disease is multi-factorial with the main cause being plaque formation on the teeth that allows harmful bacteria a place to grow and flourish. Osteoporosis can’t be the reason you get gum disease, but it can contribute to the persistence of the disease.
In addition, research found that the bacterium that causes periodontal disease, Porphyromonas gingivalis, increases the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, leads to an earlier onset of the disease, and causes symptoms to progress more quickly.
“For giving us a breather when we really need it!”
Both COPD and gum disease are chronic, slowly developing diseases that are usually diagnosed after the age of 40, and are higher in smokers than in non-smokers.
It is thought that both COPD and pneumonia are caused when pathogenic bacteria from the mouth/sinus cavity are inhaled, the body doesn’t fight off these new invaders, and they colonize and affect the lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchi, and lungs).
Studies have found those with respiratory diseases have worse periodontal disease, and gum disease can aggravate symptoms of COPD and make flare ups worse.
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If you haven’t done the best job of caring for your mouth and the rest of your body, it might be time to see your dentist. Gum disease is called a “silent” disease — it can be tricky to detect without a dentist’s diagnosis because symptoms develop gradually over a long time. That’s why it’s important to see your dental professional every six months; when you catch the disease early, you have a better chance of stopping the disease and avoiding other complications. Now that you know about the connection of gum disease and illnesses, good oral care and seeing your dentist is like writing a love letter to your body!