Gum disease is one of the most serious threats to your oral health. In addition to being the leading cause of tooth loss in America, gum disease is a chronic infection that can threaten your health in many ways. Understanding these different impacts can help you appreciate why you need to take better care of your oral health and get gum disease treatment if you need it.
Diabetes is one of the most common chronic health conditions faced by Americans, after gum disease and tooth decay. The most recent CDC report says that nearly 10% of the population has diabetes, and when you add in the people with prediabetes, it affects about a third of all Americans.
Diabetes and gum disease have a complicated relationship and been strongly linked to a higher risk of gum disease if you aren’t properly controlling your blood sugar levels. But there’s a wrinkle: having gum disease makes it harder to control your blood sugar levels. So it means that the two conditions are mutually reinforcing, with one increasing the risk of the other.
Oral bacteria use your gums as a jumping-off point to infect your body. One of the ways that it travels through your body is through your blood. Oral bacteria have been found living in arterial plaque–the buildup that is sometimes described as “hardened arteries,” and that can be damaging, even deadly to your heart health.
There is even evidence to suggest that the oral bacteria themselves are responsible for much of the fat in plaque. Some of the fat found in plaque is of a type produced by oral bacteria, but not normally found in fatty foods.
It’s less common, but oral bacteria can even infect your heart directly. Learn more about how your dentist can protect your heart health.
One of the dangers of arterial plaque is that it can break off and travel through your arteries to your heart or brain. Then these small particles block the tiny blood vessels, cutting off blood supply. People with gum disease have about twice the stroke risk of those without gum disease, and the more serious the gum disease the higher the risk. People with severe tooth loss related to gum disease had a stroke risk nearly four times that of people without gum disease.
Oral bacteria are like other organisms trying to survive in a difficult environment. They use strategies to protect themselves from the dangers they face. In your mouth, one of the biggest dangers for oral bacteria is your immune system. To try to protect themselves from your immune system, they can use chemical triggers to confuse the immune system.
Long-term exposure to these confusing chemical triggers has been linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your joints. People with gum disease are at an increased risk of this condition.
The link between gum disease and cancer is less well-established than the above connections. Gum disease has been linked to increased risk of several different types of cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and oral cancer.
We also know several mechanisms by which gum disease could increase cancer risk, including systemic inflammation, and the way that gum disease bacteria can trick the immune system. It seems that the bacteria don’t just hide themselves–they can hide cancer, too.
Oral bacteria were often found in samples taken from the lungs of people with pneumonia, but it was believed that the samples were contaminated in passing through the mouth. But new sampling technology has confirmed that oral bacteria actually play an important part in pneumonia infections.
We’re not entirely sure about how much gum disease may increase your risk of pneumonia, but it is a concern, especially for patients on artificial respiration.
Treat Gum Disease to Protect Your Health
Getting your gum disease treated isn’t just critical to saving your teeth. It can be critical to saving your life. The strong links between gum disease and some of the leading causes of death in America mean that treating your gum disease is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your long-term health. And, of course, regular checkups and cleanings can help you avoid developing gum disease in the first place.