According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to half of all adults over the age of 30 have gum disease – though the majority don’t know it. That number increases to a whopping 70 percent in adults older than 65.
Bacteria, certain medications, diabetes, smoking, immune deficiencies, stress and even hormonal changes can all increase the risk of gum disease. One of the biggest contributing factors to periodontal disease is lack of oral hygiene and forsaking regular dentist visits.
Gum disease causes tender, swollen and bleeding gums; bad breath; sensitive and loose teeth; and other unpleasant symptoms. What many people are unaware of, however, is that it can also trigger far more serious health conditions, including heart disease, cancer and dementia.
What causes gum disease?
As explained by Medical News Today, gum disease starts with a buildup of plaque:
Plaque — a sticky substance that contains bacteria — builds up on teeth. If it is not brushed away, the bacteria can irritate the gums.
The gums may then become swollen, sore, or infected; this is referred to as gingivitis.
In general, gum disease can be treated or prevented by maintaining a good oral health regime.
However, if it is left to develop, it can result in periodontitis, which weakens the supporting structures of the teeth. (Related: Severe periodontitis associated with an increased risk of lung, colorectal, pancreatic cancers.)
The link between gum disease and serious illnesses
As reported by Natural Health 365, gum disease is far more than just an irritating condition; studies have linked it to some serious health conditions.
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In addition to respiratory problems and erectile dysfunction, gum disease has also been linked to heart disease, cancer and dementia.
Heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, is closely connected with gum disease, though experts have different explanations for the connection.
For one thing, gum disease triggers inflammation throughout the body, and that includes the cardiovascular system. Though inflammation is a protective mechanism of the body to protect against irritants and pathogens, prolonged exposure to inflammation can cause tissue and organ damage – and that includes the heart.
Medical experts also believe that in patients with gum disease, bacteria leeches from the mouth into the bloodstream. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Oral Microbiology found that a type of bacteria commonly found in the mouth is also the most common bacteria detected in the arteries responsible for supplying blood to the heart muscle.
As already explained, gum disease triggers inflammation and studies have found a close connection between inflammation and cancer.
Inflammation generates free radicals which cause damage to the DNA. This in turn causes cells to mutate, ultimately leading to cancer.
A meta-analysis of five cohort studies involving 321,420 participants found that “patients with periodontal disease are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.”
Although one wouldn’t generally associate dental health with mental health, studies have confirmed a link between gum disease, tooth loss and cognitive decline.
Medical News Today reported:
Researchers have also linked periodontal disease with an increased buildup of beta-amyloid in the brain — the neurological hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
Other experiments have produced evidence that one type of bacteria commonly found in cases of periodontitis — Porphyromonas gingivalis — can be found in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s.
Following on from that discovery, in a more recent study, researchers showed that P. gingivalisinfection boosts the production of beta-amyloid in the brain.
Preventing gum disease
Taking care of your teeth is simple and will protect not only your oral health but your general well-being. And doing so is actually quite simple! (Related: Learn more at Dentistry.news.)
- Brush teeth at least twice a day, but preferably after every meal;
- Brush teeth in gentle, circular movements for at least two minutes, avoiding the gum area;
- Floss every single day;
- Visit the dentist at least once a year; and
- Avoid sugar, which feeds bacteria.
Sources for this article include: