Advanced, untreated gum disease degrades the tissues and bone structures that surround the teeth, and very often causes tooth loss. However, the effects of gum disease can be felt well beyond the mouth and jaw. Research links gum disease to a variety of systemic conditions that affect overall health, including heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. We refer to this as the mouth-body connection.
In some cases, gum disease can cause problems in other parts of the body, while in other instances, conditions seemingly unrelated to the mouth can contribute to the development or advancement of gum disease.
It's important to let us as well as your general dentist know about any illnesses or conditions that you are experiencing. An awareness of difficulties outside your mouth can help us treat certain problems related to your teeth and gums. In turn, we may be able to identify diseases affecting other areas of your body based on the symptoms we observe inside your mouth. Below is a list of conditions that are known to be related to gum disease.
If you have diabetes, it is especially important to take good care of your teeth and gums because gum disease and diabetes can affect each other adversely. Diabetes can disrupt the immune system's ability to fight infection, making diabetics more susceptible to gum disease, which is essentially an infection of the tissue surrounding the teeth. Also, advanced gum disease can boost the level of blood sugar in the body, further complicating diabetes.
Heart disease and stroke
The American Academy of Periodontology cites research that indicates people with gum disease are nearly twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery (heart) disease as those without gum disease. Currently, the actual link between the two diseases is not entirely clear, though some scientists believe that bacteria from the mouth travel through the blood stream to affect the arteries in the heart. Other research points to a link between gum disease and stroke, with one study finding higher instances of oral infection in a group of stroke survivors than in a control group.
In a normal body, bone growth slows over time, and bone density decreases due to age and other circumstances. But in people with osteoporosis, bones are weakened to the point where they are fragile enough to fracture easily and frequently. Although we most commonly hear of hip or back fractures, all bones are affected, including the jaw. A jaw with decreased bone density can't support the teeth as well as a healthy jaw, which leaves those suffering from both gum disease and osteoporosis with a heightened risk of tooth loss. If you think you might be at risk for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about having a bone density test. If this condition is identified early enough, treatment can help.
Research indicates that bacteria from the mouth — including those present in someone suffering from gum disease — can be inhaled down into the lungs, leading to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. Smoking is a primary cause of respiratory diseases, but it is also a risk factor in gum disease. Quitting smoking can improve your health in myriad ways. Please get in touch with your general dentist or our office if you are looking for help kicking the habit.
During pregnancy and other phases of increased hormone levels (puberty, menstrual cycle, menopause), the risk of oral health problems is higher than normal due to increased gum sensitivity. Some studies have linked gum disease to low birth weight and premature labor. If you are planning to become pregnant, be sure to assess your oral health first, and begin treatment if you have gingivitis or periodontitis.