Here’s some information that Dr. David Allen and the rest of our team at Shepherd Mall Family Dentistry believe that every patient should know – The health of our gums, teeth, and mouth can all tell us a great deal about our overall health.
In fact, numerous studies have found surprising connections between oral health and some very serious health conditions. This is a real cause for concern considering that roughly half of the adult population in the U.S. suffers from some degree of gum disease – from the mild gingivitis to the more severe periodontitis.
The research exploring this connection tells us that taking care of our teeth and gums matters far more than just helping to ensure we enjoy a great looking smile. Brushing and flossing can actually make a difference when it comes to lowering our risk for a whole range of health problems that could significantly impact our quality of life as we grow older.
Here are some of the most significant health risks researchers have found linked to tooth decay and gum disease.
Patients who suffer from severe gum disease have a higher risk for coronary heart disease, according to a study published in the American Heart Journal.
An inflammatory disease, periodontitis causes the gums to become chronically infected, creating bacteria and inflammation that can easily spread to other areas of the body, especially the heart. In fact, researchers have even identified several types of gum disease causing bacteria in arterial plaque, according to another study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Researchers believe cuts that develop in gum tissue as a result of gum disease allow harmful oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream where they can travel to the heart. Once lodged in the arteries, oral bacteria can cause inflammation to occur. In time, this buildup can cause arteries to narrow, thereby increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease.
A recent study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care found that individuals with gum disease were 23 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes when compared to those with healthy gum tissue. However, researchers involved in the study stressed that this link noted correlation, not causation. In other words, gum disease does not cause diabetes, but rather it’s more of a domino effect that can trigger within the body.
Consider this: Gum disease causes the body to release inflammatory proteins, which can cause blood vessels to become irritated and induce the buildup of plaque (as we just mentioned above). However, these proteins can contribute to high blood sugar, which increases the risk for diabetes. When put simply: Poor oral health contributes to poor blood sugar control and greater problems managing diabetes. Conversely, diabetics who enjoy good oral health have better control over their blood sugar levels.
In some rare cases, plaque buildup that starts in the heart can actually cause problems in the brain, reports the findings of one 2015 study, and may even increase the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe this connection occurs because gum disease releases inflammatory proteins, as well a C-reactive protein – a substance produced by the liver that has the ability to act as a marker for inflammation and disease in the body – both of which can creep in to the brain. However, more study is needed before researchers have a better idea of whether this connection actually exists and whether improved oral health could contribute to lowering the risk of cognitive decline.
Women suffering from gum disease have a 14 percent greater risk for developing oral cancers, says the results of a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention. While this study exclusively involved the participation of postmenopausal women, researchers believe the results still hold promise for the future of determining how gum disease impacts cancer risk. Previous research has linked unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking, and poor oral health, to an increased risk for cancer, especially esophageal cancer.
As research continues to find links between our oral and overall health, Dr. David Allen hopes that all of our patients at Shepherd Mall Family Dentistry take this type of news seriously. It’s not just the state of your smile that’s at risk when you don’t bother to brush and floss, and it could lead to a whole lot more.