Smile Bright, Live Right: 5 Ways How Gum Disease Affects Your Health

Written by Dr Gloria Kong

Your smile does more than light up a room. It reflects the state of your overall health. While most of us are familiar with the concept of oral health, did you know that gum disease can impact your entire well-being?

Research has linked gum disease and poor oral health to diseases and conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart and kidney disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Asthma
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Osteoporosis, and
  • Cancer.

In fact, there have been more than 120 conditions associated with dental problems – many of which could be prevented with regular dental maintenance visits.

I have written this article to help patients like you have a deeper understanding of how interconnected oral health and systemic health is. It is my hope that a deeper understanding of the impact of poor oral health can help trigger immediate action.

Quick Recap: What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is also called periodontal disease. It is a bacterial condition that causes a gradual decline in the condition of oral health and gums. Because it happens in stages, patients are normally not aware that they have gum disease until the following symptoms occur:

  • Persistent bad breath
  • Red, swollen and/or bleeding gums
  • Loosened teeth

Gum disease in its initial and early stages is known as gingivitis. Gingivitis can be treated with early detection and prevention. It happens fairly often and most people have it at some point in their life. The symptoms of gingivitis are:

  • Soreness of the gums
  • Bleeding of the gums when brushing
  • Mild pain
  • Redness of the gums
  • Minor swelling of the gums

When gingivitis goes untreated, it can progress to periodontitis. This is an advanced form of gum disease that does permanent damage to the bone and gum disease. Damage done by periodontitis cannot be reversed. The only consolation is that with professional gum treatment, the progression of periodontitis can be halted.

The signs of periodontitis are:

  • Gums that are receding
  • Bite alignment changes
  • Bad breath
  • Teeth that feel loose
  • Teeth loss
  • Swollen and bleeding gums
  • Painful chewing

Recognising some of the common symptoms of gum disease can help you seek treatment as soon as possible.

How Gum Disease Affects Your Health: The Gum-Body Connection

Many patients are surprised when I tell them that gum health is related to body health. It is easy to see our mouths as separate from the rest of our bodies. The truth is, both are deeply intertwined. The health of your gums can influence your systemic health, and vice versa.

Gum Disease and Inflammation

One of the shared traits of gingivitis and periodontitis is the onset of gum inflammation. When left untreated, the inflammation can break down gums. This can lead to jaw bone erosion and eventually tooth loss.

When inflammation is present anywhere in the body, your immune system sounds a war horn to alert infection-fighting cells (white blood cells) that something is wrong in the body. These cells then circulate through the bloodstream to every other part of the body. The strong immune response that was triggered by the inflammation of the gums has long-term implications for your body.

We will explore some of the key health implications here.

1. Gum Disease and Diabetes

I see many diabetic patients who suffer from different stages of gum disease. If you or someone you know is living with diabetes, it is crucial to understand the link between diabetes and gum disease.

Diabetes can affect blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are not well-controlled, it can result in higher saliva glucose levels. The higher glucose levels promote bacteria growth that causes gum disease. When periodontal disease is left untreated, the inflammation can cause a rise in blood sugars, making it difficult to properly manage diabetes.

Unfortunately for many diabetic patients, gum disease and diabetes can be a vicious cycle. High blood sugar levels can contribute to gum disease, while gum disease can make it more challenging to manage diabetes. This symbiotic relationship highlights the importance of maintaining healthy gums for better diabetes management.

If you are managing diabetes or have a loved one who is, consider reaching out to our dental team at Kong Dental Surgery Clinic. We understand the intricate nature of oral and systemic health. Contact us to discuss how we can work together to ensure your overall well being. 

2. Gum Disease and Heart Health

The impact of inflammation from gum disease can be detrimental to heart health. Research suggests that the inflammation caused by gum disease may contribute to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

To briefly explain the correlation, bacteria in the infected gum tissue could enter your bloodstream. From your bloodstream, it will travel to other parts of the circulatory system. This causes inflammation and arterial plaque which can progress to atherosclerosis – a condition that is caused by the buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. Dental plaque bacteria could also trigger blood clots that increase the risks of stroke.

Taking a more conscientious approach to your oral health can reduce inflammation and contribute to a healthier heart and body.

3. Gum Disease and COVID-19

The inflammation from gum disease can lead to more aggressive COVID-19 infections and increase the risk of complications from the virus.

There is a simple explanation as to why this happens. Just imagine your body as a fortress defending itself against potential invaders. COVID-19 is one such potential enemy trying to breach the walls. Your immune system has guards patrolling the walls, who are on the constant lookout for threats. If your fortress is well-maintained, the guards can easily repel potential invaders.

However, when there is a weakness, like gum disease, it is like having a massive hole in the fortress. The enemy (COVID-19) can sneak in through the hole and overwhelm the guards (immune system). While the guards are fighting the enemy, another attacker arrives (inflammation from gum disease). The attacker sends signals that can distract the guards from the main enemy and cause havoc.

Instead of focusing all their efforts on fighting the COVID-19 virus, the guards are distracted and spend their resources fighting both inflammation and COVID-19.

Taking care of your gum health is like building a strong fortress to keep out invaders. A strong gum health strengthens your immune system defences against COVID-19 and other health challenges.

4. Gum Disease and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)

If you have Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), there is a higher chance of getting gum disease. Your gut health does not just involve your gut but extends to your mouth and to the end of your colon. Simply put, your gut health is tied to your gum health.

IBD is an autoimmune disease. This means that patients who suffer from IBD are more vulnerable to gum disease.

Just like how gum disease is connected to diabetes and heart disease through inflammation, IBD comprises two separate inflammatory conditions:

  • Crohn’s Disease (CD), and
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC).

The treatment of periodontal diseases can have a positive impact on IBD management. When you prioritise the care of your gums, you are helping your body get stronger to focus on the treatment of IBD.

5. Gum Disease and Cancer

There is a 14% higher chance of developing cancer if you have a history of periodontal disease. Cancers that researchers have documented as linked to gum disease are:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Breast cancer.

The connection between the two could be explained by oral pathogens that are carried via saliva and dental plaque through diseased periodontal tissues into the blood circulation. When these travel to other body sites, they can contribute to carcinogenesis.

Preventing gum disease can save your life (literally) and prevent unnecessary grief and expenses at a later stage.

The Power of Early Detection and Prevention

While it can be scary knowing about the far-reaching implications of gum disease, the good news is that you have the power to prevent gum disease before it affects your health.

Many periodontal diseases can be prevented with good oral hygiene and regular professional care. Here are some quick steps that you can take immediately to optimise your oral health:

1. Practise good oral hygiene by brushing teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

2. Head for professional dental cleaning at least twice a year.

3. Visit your dentist for dental maintenance at least once every year.

How can my dentist help me?

Your dentist can work with you to provide tailored advice that is based on your current conditions.

Besides advising you on your oral health, they are able to give you recommendations for brands and types of fluoride toothpaste you can use to prevent gum disease effectively. If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist might ask you to steer away from harsh toothpaste products that contain Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) as an ingredient.

Your dentist can work with you to provide tailored advice that is based on your current conditions.

Your dentist can also provide you with the necessary dental tools – interdental brushes, tape, or floss – to optimise your dental routine and reduce plaque between teeth.

At Kong Dental Surgery Clinic, we do more than support your dental health. We support your overall health with dental tips and tricks and professionals who are familiar with oral-body health. 

Your smile is not just a reflection of your oral health. It is a showcase of your overall vitality. Visiting a dentist to keep your vitality in check should not be put off till the last minute. By understanding the connection between gum disease and systemic health, you can take proactive steps towards living a fuller and healthier life.

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