About half of all adults in the U.S. have periodontal disease (also called gum disease), according to data from the CDC, and that means every one of them is at an increased risk for tooth loss. In fact, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss among men and women in the U.S. That’s pretty serious. But as it turns out, tooth loss is just one of the medical problems associated with untreated periodontal disease. Studies show that the effects of the disease can be far more widespread, affecting other areas of your body and contributing to serious acute and chronic medical conditions.
Gum disease and overall health
Periodontal disease occurs when harmful bacteria move down the surfaces of your teeth to the tissues below the gum line. These bacteria release toxins that irritate your gum tissue, causing the tissue to retract and move away from the tooth surface. As the tissue retracts, it creates pockets that allow the bacteria to move even farther down the tooth. This cycle continues until the bacteria finally reach the root of the tooth, where they can cause inflammation that leads to loose teeth and tooth loss.
For years, researchers thought the connection between periodontal disease and other medical problems was due to these bacteria entering the bloodstream and traveling to other areas of the body where they would cause infection and other tissue damage. And in fact, that probably plays an important role. But more recently, researchers have begun to consider whether other issues may be at play as well. What they’ve discovered is that the inflammation associated with gum disease also plays a part, especially the severe inflammation that occurs with periodontitis, the most advanced stage of gum disease.
The association between inflammation and the development and worsening of chronic and acute diseases, especially as we age, is well established. While some inflammation is helpful in the body’s natural healing processes, chronic or ongoing inflammation weakens the body’s immune responses and makes the body far more prone to damage. In gum disease, researchers believe the inflammation the disease causes increases the inflammatory “load” the body is forced to deal with, making it more susceptible to serious diseases.
Overall health risks
Recent years have seen a major increase in the number of studies evaluating the potential link between gum disease and overall health. To date, studies have shown a proposed link between gum disease and the following conditions:
According to a report published by Harvard Medical School, people with gum disease are two to three times as likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.
People who have diabetes are at an increased risk for gum disease, possibly because diabetes makes it more difficult to fight off infections. Higher blood sugar levels may also provide a food source for the bacteria that cause gum disease. The risk for periodontal disease is higher for diabetics who don’t adequately manage their glucose levels.
A study published this year in the medical journal “Stroke” found that gum disease can double or even triple your risk for having a stroke (about the same as having high blood pressure). What’s more, the researchers found the risk of having a stroke was decreased in people who had routine dental care and cleanings.
When you inhale, you can breathe in (aspirate) gum disease-causing bacteria into your lungs. Once there, those bacteria can cause respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, and they can also exacerbate the symptoms of respiratory diseases like COPD.
Studies have demonstrated associations between periodontal disease and increased risks of lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and oral cancers.
Research from Johns Hopkins University Division of Rheumatology found that the same bacteria that cause gum disease also cause the inflammatory response that’s the hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic and degenerative disease that destroys your joints over time.
The bottom line: If you have gum disease, there’s much more at stake than your teeth. You could be increasing your risks for a whole host of serious and even life-threatening medical conditions. And by treating your gum disease, you could decrease those risks and improve your overall health.
Prevent gum disease: Schedule a cleaning today
If there’s one good thing that can be said about gum disease, it’s this: It can be treated. The key is to catch it in its earliest stages. Having routine dental cleanings and checkups at New Teeth Chicago Dental is a critically important part of preventing gum disease and the serious problems it can cause. If you’re due for a cleaning, don’t put it off. Contact the practice and schedule an appointment today.