Links Between Periodontal Disease and Heart Disease, Diabetes, etc.

Brushing and Flossing Saves Lives!

Poster graphic that advises link between Gum Disease and your health

Seriously.  Brushing and flossing your teeth can actually help in preventing health complications such as heart disease, diabetes, and others.  Bacteria from the mouth can enter the bloodstream through the gums. These same bacteria have been found clumped in artery plaques.  Doctors have various theories as to how this relationship develops.  One is that these bacteria stick to fatty deposits, and directly clog the bloodstream.  Another theory is that inflammation of the blood cells (how the body defends against bacteria) can lead to narrowing of arteries and increasing the risk of clots.

A causal relationship has not yet been proven between periodontal disease and heart disease, but there is a definite correlation.  Warning signs which arise from periodontal disease (bleeding, swollen, pus filled or painful gums) often alert us to problems in the body we might not otherwise see.  We cannot see our arteries hardening or our cholesterol count rising, but we can feel if flossing is painful or not.  Paying attention to small warning signs can alert us to larger issues.

 Do you have any of the following issues?

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bleeding after you floss or brush
  • Receding gums or noticing that you see more of a tooth than you used to
  • Pus on the gums
  • Pain when you bite or chew
  • Loose teeth

Some people are genetically more prone to periodontal and gum disease. So if gum disease runs in your family, you should be especially vigilant.  Get any symptoms checked out right away.

To prevent gum disease and other dental problems:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. Periodontist Sally Cram, DDS, a spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, cautions that while we all think we know how to brush our teeth, many of us don’t. “It’s not just how often you brush, but how thoroughly you do it,” says Cram. Bad brushing technique can actually worsen gum disease. “If you brush too hard from side to side, you can miss the pockets of plaque and actually abrade or tear the gums,” says Cram.  “That can lead to more infection.”  Circular motions help the bristles of your toothbrush to clear out any debris in the gaps between the gums and teeth.
  • Floss at least once a day.  Cram says that though flossing seems easy, many people don’t do it well.  Ask your dentist, periodontist or hygienist how to effectively floss your teeth.
  • Use antiseptic mouthwash and toothpaste, if your dentist recommends it. These aren’t necessary for everyone, but Cram says they can help some people who have issues controlling their plaque and bacteria.
  • Get regular checkups and cleanings. Most people should have a checkup every six months, but when periodontal disease is present, every 3-4 months is usually necessary to get the disease under control.  Then your dentist, periodontist or hygienist can determine if every six months will be sufficient.  Diligent home care is really what dictates how quickly periodontal disease can be reversed.
  • Eat healthy foods. “Vitamin deficiencies can make it harder for your body to fight off infection and heal,” Cram says. “So make sure to eat a good balanced diet with adequate vitamins and nutrients.”
  • Stop smoking. Here’s another reason to kick the habit. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, smoking may be one of the most significant risk factors for periodontal disease.

“The good news is that, with a commonsense approach, periodontal disease is totally preventable,” says Cram.  This may turn out to be great news for your heart as well.

Gum Disease and Diabetes

Diabetes can reduce the body’s resistance to infection.  A recent study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that one of five cases of total tooth loss in the United States is linked to diabetes.  Elevated blood sugars increase the risk of developing gum disease.  Gum disease can make it harder to keep blood sugar levels in check. Uncontrolled diabetes impairs white blood cells, which are the body’s main defense against bacterial infections in the mouth.  Protect your gums by keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.  Brush after each meal and floss daily.  See your dentist at least twice a year.

People with diabetes face a higher risk of:

  • Dry mouth. Uncontrolled diabetes can decrease saliva flow, resulting in dry mouth. Dry mouth can lead to soreness, ulcers, infections, and tooth decay.
  • Gum inflammation (gingivitis and periodontitis). Besides impairing white blood cells, another complication of diabetes is that it causes blood vessels to thicken, which slows the flow of nutrients to and waste products from body tissues.  When this combination of events occurs, the body’s ability to fight infections is reduced.  Since periodontal disease is a bacterial infection, those with uncontrolled diabetes may experience more frequent and more severe gum disease.
  • Poor healing of oral tissues.  People with uncontrolled diabetes do not heal quickly after oral surgery or other dental procedures because blood flow to the treatment site can be impaired.
  • Thrush.  People with diabetes who frequently take antibiotics to fight various infections are especially prone to developing a fungal infection of the mouth and tongue.  The fungus thrives on high levels of sugar in the saliva.

People with diabetes who smoke are at even a higher risk — up to 20 times more likely than nonsmokers — for the development of thrush and periodontal disease.  Smoking also seems to impair blood flow to the gums — which affects wound healing.

Osteoporosis and Tooth Loss

The brittle bone disease osteoporosis affects all the bones in your body, including your jaw bone, and can cause tooth loss.  Bacteria from periodontitis (severe gum disease) can also break down the jaw bone.  One kind of osteoporosis medication, bisphosphonates, may slightly increase the risk of a rare condition called osteonecrosis, which causes bone death of the jaw.  Tell your dentist if you take bisphosphonates.

Treating Gum Disease May Help Rheumatoid Arthritis

People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are eight times more likely to have gum disease than people without this autoimmune disease.  Inflammation may be the common denominator between the two.  Making matters worse, people with RA can have trouble brushing and flossing because of damage to finger joints.  The good news is that treating existing gum inflammation and infection can also reduce joint pain and inflammation.

Tooth Loss and Kidney Disease

Adults without teeth may be more likely to have chronic kidney disease than those who still have teeth.  Exactly how kidney disease and periodontal disease are linked is not 100% clear yet. But researchers suggest that chronic inflammation may be the common thread.  So taking care of your teeth and gums may reduce your risk of developing kidney problems.

Gum Disease and Premature Birth

If you’re pregnant and have gum disease, you could be more likely to have a baby that is born too early and too small.  Exactly how the two conditions are linked remains unclear.  Inflammation or infections may be to blame.  Pregnancy and related hormonal changes also appear to worsen gum disease.  Talk to your obstetrician or dentist to find out how to protect yourself and your baby.

Infographic showing the effect of Gum Disease on the human body

Sources: WebMD, Perio.Org, ADA.Org, MayoClinic.com.