Why Healthy Gums Matter
We’d all like to keep our own teeth as long as possible, but that’s not the only reason to maintain healthy gums. In addition to damaging the bone that holds teeth in place, periodontitis (gum disease) can negatively affect your health in many other ways.
Research shows a strong link between periodontitis and the risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Scientists have also found that bacteria from the mouth can be drawn into the lungs and cause respiratory diseases like pneumonia. In studies of men, those with gum disease were significantly more likely to develop kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and blood cancers.
These links between periodontitis and other diseases are very concerning because gum disease is so common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly half of all Americans (47.2%) over the age of 30 have at least a moderate case of periodontitis.
How can the health of your gums impact other parts of your body? There are two primary ways: inflammation and infection. The immune system’s extended response to chronic inflammation of the gums can damage both blood vessels and tissue in other areas of the body. This can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke and also might play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
The mouth is an area with a lot of bacteria, and bacteria can cause infection in gums that aren’t healthy. Because gum tissue contains a high concentration of blood vessels, bacteria from the gums can easily travel to other parts of the body.
Gum disease is especially problematic for people who have diabetes, which increases general risk of infection. In addition, severe cases of gum disease can increase blood sugar, escalating the risk of diabetic complications.
Fortunately, preventing gum disease is fairly straightforward. Brushing and flossing are crucial and can do most of the heavy lifting. Regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings are also vital. Dental hygienists can clean away build-up that isn’t caught by brushing and flossing and has accumulated over time. Having regular dental check-ups means decay can be caught early—another essential part of maintaining healthy gums.