Gum disease is a condition that as many as 85% of American adults suffer with, signifying an undeniable epidemic of the disease. And yet, many peoples’ reaction to learning they have gum disease is underwhelming.
What most don’t realize is the connection between gum disease and countless other serious conditions. Learning about the links between gum disease and these other “scarier” diseases, as well as the overall importance of oral health, is key to ensuring people change their lifestyle habits to improve their gums and general health.
Though more research needs to be done to signify causal relationships, there is enough evidence to suggest that improved oral health can only help you prevent contracting or worsening conditions. Here are a few of the connections that have been suggested between gum disease and other illnesses and conditions.
Research has shown that people with diabetes are more likely to develop severe gum disease and lose more teeth from it than people who don’t have diabetes. Additionally, gum disease has the potential to hinder the regulation of glucose levels. It creates a circular relationship because 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, as well as other complications from diabetes.
Swelling is the main correlation (though not a causal relationship) between the gum and heart disease. 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 or a stroke.
Swollen gums, the primary symptom of gum disease, is a cause for concern with those at risk for heart disease. Bacteria can travel throughout the body via the many vascular pathways in the mouth, including those that lead back to the heart. In other words, the more bacteria you have in your mouth, the more bacteria you could have in your heart. Experts agree that if you address your oral health, you may decrease the number of bacteria that could be present in your heart.
Researchers in Germany found in a 2004 study that gum disease increased the risk of an ischemic stroke when the patient also had severe gum disease (also known as periodontitis), particularly for men and for subjects under 60 years of age. An ischemic stroke is a type of stroke caused by a blocked blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain. Experts agree that by preventing gum disease, you decrease the risk factor for certain types of stroke.
Researchers at University of Buffalo’s School of Public Health found in a recent study that women who had gum disease had a 14% overall increased risk of breast cancer over women who didn’t have gum disease. The percentage jumps to over 30% if the woman is a smoker, 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.
As if that weren’t enough, systemic connections have also been suggested between gum disease and erectile dysfunction, obesity, arthritis, dementia and Alzheimer’s, osteoperosis, child birth risks and liver disease. For more in-depth information on the connections between these illnesses/risks and gum disease, check out our Total Health page.
The good news is that moderate to severe gum disease is treatable. Until recently, traditional cut and sew surgery was the main method for treating gum disease, which is why many people opt not to get their oral health in check. However, the FDA cleared the LANAP® protocol as a laser surgery option is a less painful, more successful treatment with a shorter recovery time. (For more information on the FDA-cleared LANAP® protocol, visit www.LANAP.com.) If you currently suffer from one of these systemic conditions, ask your dentist if you are at risk for gum disease and what treatment is right for you.