The effects of gum disease on your body and overall health
Everyone knows it’s important to take great care of your teeth and gums to get rid of bacteria and avoid cavities. The majority of people also understand that to keep their mouth and teeth healthy, it is recommended to brush and use interdental cleaning (interdental brushes/floss) at least two times a day, avoid cavity-producing foods (such as sugary treats), avoiding smoking and visit their dentist regularly (we recommend at least every 6 months). However, there are many more reasons to take care of your teeth and gums that many people are not aware of.
In this blog, we will take a look at gum disease – the most common consequence of poor dental and oral hygiene. We will explore what it is and the effects it can have on your overall health if it takes hold.
What is gum disease?
The mouth is the gateway to the body but, it is not just all the good stuff such as food and water that that can pass from the mouth into (and around) the body, it’s the bad stuff too!
To understand how the mouth can affect the body, it helps to understand what can go wrong in the first place. Poor dental and oral hygiene can lead to bacteria (dental plaque) that builds up on teeth and along and underneath the gum line make gums prone to infection. The immune system moves in to attack the infection and the gums become inflamed. The inflammation continues unless the infection is brought under control. Over time, inflammation and the chemicals it releases, eat away at the gums and bone structure that hold teeth in place. The result is severe gum disease, known as periodontal disease.
Not only can gum disease be particularly bad for your social life while you tackle unpleasant Halitosis (bad breath) caused by small food particles get wedged between the teeth and collect bacteria and emit chemicals such as sulfides (volatile Sulphur compounds are the compounds which gives rotten eggs their repugnant, characteristic smell), gum disease can also cause some serious problems to the rest of your body which we will come to in a moment. First, let’s take a look at some of the signs of gum disease so you know what to look out for.
Gum disease symptoms
The worst thing is about gum disease is that it is usually silent (often known as the silent killer of teeth). Signs of gum disease include:
- Bleeding gums
- Shrinking gums (gum recession)
- Loose teeth
- Changes in the spaces between the teeth overtime
- Bad taste from the mouth
- Bad breath
- Tooth loss
Often patients will have none of these warning signs, and by the time they notice them it is often too late. Therefore, it is important to take responsibility for noticing the signs and visit your dentist regularly enough as they will pick up on them early and make a referral to a periodontist.
Effects of gum disease on the body
As we previously mentioned, good dental health is not just important for your teeth, gums, and breath. The bacteria that originate in the mouth can travel throughout the body and cause a host of serious health problems that you may not be aware of:
- Heart disease and stroke risk
People with gum disease are twice as likely to develop heart disease and arterial narrowing as a result of bacteria entering the bloodstream through the gums. The bacteria from gum disease may promote clotting that can clog arteries, leading to an increased risk of heart attack.
In addition, if high levels of disease-causing bacteria from the mouth clog the carotid artery – the blood vessel that delivers blood to the brain and head – it could increase the risk of having a stroke.
- Increased risk of dementia
Tooth loss due to poor dental health is also a risk factor for memory loss and early stage Alzheimer’s disease. One study, published in Behavioral and Brain Functions, found that infections in the gums release inflammatory substances, which in turn increase brain inflammation that can cause neuronal (brain cell) death.
- Respiratory problems
Bacteria from the mouth may be inhaled or travel through the bloodstream to the lungs where they may lead to respiratory problems. A landmark UK study uncovered an association between dental plaque bacteria and those found in the lungs (Sachdev M et al, 2013), which may in turn lead to associated risk of pneumonia. Dr Chemm – Past President American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) explains that “by working with your periodontist, you may actually be able to prevent or diminish the progression of harmful diseases such as pneumonia or COPD”.
In the UK it is known that patients with diabetes are also more prone to having advanced periodontal disease. A third of patients with diabetes and advanced gum disease have such aggressive disease that it leads to tooth loss. This is likely because people with diabetes are more susceptible to contracting infections, due to the negative affects of diabetes on blood vessels, white blood cells (responsible for fighting infection).
The link between gum disease and diabetes is a two-way street so in addition to having a higher risk gum disease due to diabetes, periodontal disease may also make it more difficult to control blood sugar, putting patients at higher risk of developing diabetes and associated diabetic complications.
- Erectile dysfunction
Men with periodontal disease are 7 times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than men with good dental hygiene. Periodontal bacteria can travel through the bloodstream, inflaming blood vessels and blocking flow to the genitals.
- Risk of premature birth
Premature babies face a host of medical problems including breathing issues and infections and a mothers’ dental and oral health can impact this association. Doctors theorize that one of the main causes of preterm birth is infection in the mother’s body. A common site of infection is the mouth.
In addition to brushing and flossing, a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found an association between good oral health in pregnant women and a decreased rate of delivering babies prematurely.
The theory is that gum-disease-induced inflammation could be reduced by excellent oral hygiene.
Researchers found that men with gum disease were more than 30% likely to develop kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and blood related cancers.
Good dental practices – visiting your dentist or oral health care professional on a regular basis – can also help with early detection of oral cancers.
Plus, smokers are (on the whole) less likely to visit the dentist and are at the highest risk of such cancers, according to a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to keep your mouth, gums and teeth healthy
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between your teeth at least once a day with floss/interdental brushes.
- Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
- Ask your dentist or periodontist if your medication has a side effects that might damage your gums (for example, some medicines may cause drying of the mouth).
- Look inside your mouth regularly for sores that do not heal, irritated gums or other changes.
- See your dentist regularly.
If you have any problems with your teeth or concerns about your mouth, see your dentist or periodontist right away. Here at Gentle Dental Care, we are specialists in gum treatment and would be delighted to help you.