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When Gums Aren't Healthy, Mind and Body May Follow
  • Posted December 23, 2021

When Gums Aren't Healthy, Mind and Body May Follow

Gum disease isn't just a threat to your teeth. It also increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, mental woes and more, British researchers report.

"The study reinforces the importance of prevention, early identification and treatment of periodontal disease, and the need for members of the public to attend regular oral health checks with a dentist or dental care professional," lead researcher Dr. Joht Singh Chandan said.

Looking at thousands of people with gum disease, the researchers found links to a host of chronic health conditions. Compared to people with healthy gums, folks with "pink in the sink" were more likely to develop heart failure, stroke, vascular dementia, high blood pressure, arthritis, psoriasis and type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Also, depression, anxiety and other serious mental illnesses.

"We found evidence that periodontal diseases appear to be associated with an increased risk of developing these associated chronic diseases," said Singh Chandan, a lecturer in public health at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Applied Health Research.

"As periodontal diseases are very common, an increased risk of other chronic diseases may represent a substantial public health burden, because chronic diseases may be related to poor oral health," he said.

According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of Americans over age 30 have gum, or periodontal, disease. Its early stage, called gingivitis, is characterized by swollen and red gums that may bleed. In its later form, called periodontitis, the gums can pull away from the tooth, bone can diminish, and the teeth may loosen or fall out.

Dr. Leena Palomo is a professor and chair of periodontology and implant dentistry at NYU College of Dentistry in New York City. Palomo said that although this study doesn't prove gum disease causes all these diseases, as "practicing periodontists, we live this data every day."

For the study, the U.K. research team collected data on nearly 64,400 patients with a history of gum disease. They compared these patients with more than 250,000 patients without the condition.

Among those with gum disease, nearly 61,000 had gingivitis and almost 3,400 had periodontitis, both of which cause inflammation. Over three years of follow-up, those with gum disease were more likely to develop other medical problems, the investigators found.

People with gum disease were 37% more likely to develop a mental health condition, 33% more likely to develop an autoimmune disease and 18% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. They were also 7% more likely to develop a metabolic disorder, with a 26% increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, the researchers noted.

Whether gum disease causes these problems or gum disease is caused by them isn't clear, Palomo said. "Some data shows that it's a two-way street. That's the case with diabetes. In other areas, we need more research and more investigation," she said.

If your gums aren't healthy, you should ask your doctor to screen for other medical conditions that may co-occur, Palomo advised.

When gum disease is caught early, it can be easily treated, she said. For a healthy mouth, it's important to keep up regular dental appointments.

"The advice is to be hypervigilant," Palomo said. "Just because nothing hurts in your mouth, it doesn't mean you should be ignoring dentist visits or the basic fundamentals of brushing and flossing. People tend to forget those basic principles until there's a toothache or an abscess."

The report was published online Dec. 19 in the BMJ Open.

More information

For more on gum disease, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Joht Singh Chandan, PhD, MBBS, academic clinical lecturer in public health, Institute of Applied Health Research, University of Birmingham, U.K.; Leena Palomo, DDS, MSD, professor and chair, Ashman department of periodontology and implant dentistry, NYU College of Dentistry, New York City; BMJ Open, Dec. 19, 2021, online

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